Saturday, July 14, 2001

Government will intensify its campaign to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS

JAKARTA (JP) — The government will intensify its campaign to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, which saw a significant number of cases in June.

Data from the Ministry of Health show that in June alone an increase of 118 cases of HIV and 76 cases of full blown AIDS were reported.

Director General of Communicable Diseases at the ministry, Umar Fachmi Achmadi, said official figures now show that there are a total of 1,572 patients infected with the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) and 578 cases of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the country.

He said that while the largest number of those infected still acquired the virus through sexual contact, the number has seen a steady increase since 1998 from drug users who share unsterile syringes.

Umar also pointed out that the social and economic crises that has hit the country in recent years has seen many turning to the sex industry and the drug trade to seek an income.

"The government will stick to its efforts to prevent the spread, such as through campaigning the use of condoms. The current campaign faces hindrances as we cannot force people to use condoms."

"But, I think intensifying the use of condoms and distributing sterile syringes for drugs users such as in European and American countries will be effective to curb the spread," he told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

Official data has recorded the number of HIV/AIDS patients in 23 provinces. There have been no reports submitted by Bengkulu, Central Sulawesi and Southeast Sulawesi.

He said the new cases reported in June are largely from Irian Jaya where 94 new HIV infections and 67 AIDS cases were reported.

Overall, the highest number of AIDS cases reported is in Jakarta with 299 cases, followed by Irian Jaya with 210 cases, West Java with 37 cases, while Bali, East Java and Riau with 26, 22 and 14 cases respectively.

"We have learned that the virus spreads fastest in Irian Jaya through sexual intercourse. We are thinking of encouraging the issuance of a bylaw imposing the use of condoms in the province. So the use of condoms will become mandatory there," Umar said.

Despite the official number given, many activists have pointed out that it could merely be the tip of the iceberg given the large population of the country and the lack of awareness and control of the spread of the virus.

So far no known drug has been found to wholly cure HIV/AIDS associated illnesses. Certain drugs help to alleviate the pain and inhibit the spread of the virus within the body.

Such therapy is estimated to cost Rp 90 million (US$7,800) per year.

The United Nations last month devoted a three-day General Assembly session in New York to seek a higher commitment to combat the global threat posed by the virus.

"In a round table discussion during the special session, pharmaceutical companies indirectly stated that they will lower the price of drugs needed in the therapy by 90 percent for developing countries," Umar revealed. (bby)

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Created: July 16, 2001
Last modified: September 1, 2001
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