Monday, August 13, 2001

Indonesia: Harmful lifestyle exposes teens to health threats

JAKARTA (JP) — Doctors and an NGO here over the weekend raised the alarm over the health perils faced by teenagers due to unhealthy lifestyles commonly found among the youth.

Activists from the Pelita Ilmu Foundation during a two-day exhibition over the weekend attempted to increase teenagers' awareness that despite their age, they remained very much at risk of falling victim to various life-threatening diseases, including cancer and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

They warned that teenagers could no longer hide behind the veil of the "immortality of youth" and remain careless about their physical wellbeing.

"Teens seem to have the perception that bad things such as cancer are unlikely to happen to them because they are young," Dr. Samsuridjal Djauzi, chairperson of the Pelita Ilmu Foundation, told The Jakarta Post.

"They adopt smoking habits, while others even take drugs, ignoring the fact that these habits are hazardous to their health," he added.

Reminding teenagers that disease does not discriminate over age and that their future wellbeing depends on how they act now was the major theme of the exhibition.

One illness which most teenagers are oblivious of is cancer.

"We'd like to create an awareness among teenagers of the importance of health examinations, as the chance of curing cancer is larger when detected in its early stages," said Dr. Samsuridjal.

He added that smoking, a popular trend among the young, was another concern. He suggested that while ideally teenagers should stop the habit altogether they should at least undergo regular health checkups.

"Some choose to ignore the dangers of smoking which could easily lead to cancer," he said, pointing that cigarette promotions commonly found in various public events were purposely not invited to the current exhibition.

In one of the health stands setup by the Dharmais Cancer Hospital, female doctors were on hand to coach teens on self examination for breast cancer detection.

Posters and leaflets were also readily available for those who were too shy to ask.

"Many seem to be embarrassed to ask questions relating to breast cancer," said Dr. Ayi Djembarsari.

"But we handed them the leaflets anyway, hoping they would read it at home," she said adding that many of the female teenagers came just to look around without asking any questions.

Rahmat Kurniawan, a researcher at the foundation, also expressed concern of the continuing dangers of STDs.

Rahmat estimates that "around 30 percent of our teenagers, mostly in the cities, engage in unprotected premarital sex."

"They are very prone to STDs, and not many of them have sufficient knowledge on the subject," he said.

"Although the number of teenagers afflicted with STDs is not as many as found in adults, it would be better to make them aware of the problem," Rahmat said.

These concerns are compounded with the danger of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which has also become particularly prevalent among intravenous drug users who share needles.

"Sadly, more and more teens are involved in drug abuse," he added.

"The drugs themselves are already dangerous, but now you can get infected with various diseases because of the drug use," Rahmat warned.

Whether the two-day exhibition itself was effective in getting the message through remains to be seen. Organizers claim that about 2,000 youth visited the Teen Bazaar 2001 at Pasar Festival in Kuningan, South Jakarta.

At the very least the event tried to find an alternative way to disseminate information through a medium which may by more appealing to the youth.

Music performances were staged as well as theater and dance.

"The performances were used to attract the teenagers, otherwise they wouldn't be interested to even come," Samsuridjal remarked.

His statement was clearly reflected in the number of visitors who seemed to be there to enjoy the entertainment.

One young visitor, 22-year-old Okta, when asked by the Post admitted that she had not visited any of the health stands.

"I'm actually here to see my friend's band perform," she remarked.

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Created: August 26, 2001
Last modified: August 26, 2001
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