Fri, 09 Aug 2002

HIV/AIDS in Batam demands immediate control

Fadli, The Jakarta Post, Batam, Riau

The increasing number of nightspots in Batam, Riau has been blamed on the increase of HIV cases.

The industrial city has over the past month appealed for government attention after the death of two locals from the disease.

Rukiyati, 36, from Kendal, Central Java, was found critically ill at a port in Sekupang, Batam, on July 13. The emaciated women died at the Batam Authority Hospital (RSOB) the next day from full blown AIDS.

Two weeks later, Laysau, 39, from Sei Harapan, Sekupang, also died at RSOB from the virus. Unlike Laysau, who was looked after by relatives, Rukiyati could not be identified. She was believed to have worked as a sex worker in Singapore.

Official sources said from 1993 to July 2002 Batam had registered 97 people as infected with HIV, of which 21 had AIDS. Only one of the people with AIDS was still alive.

The actual number of HIV/AIDS cases, however, is likely much higher than the figures provided as many other victims, like Rukiyati, were not on the Batam health office's list.

In Batam, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS has reached 2.3 percent, which is far higher than the national level of 0.32 per 100,000 people, thereby demanding serious government action.

Evianora Azwar, a physician at the Kimia Farma clinic in Batu Aji, Sei Beduk district, Batam, told The Jakarta Post it was treating a variety of sexually-transmitted diseases, including syphilis, gonorrhea and herpes.

"In this clinic alone 50 patients consult us every month. They are prone to having HIV, which eventually leads to AIDS," said Evianora, adding that those with venereal complaints were mostly shipyard employees and sex workers from Batam's entertainment areas.

Batam's Family Health Foundation is so concerned by the threat it has undertaken a campaign to raise awareness of the disease in the city's red light districts to prevent the spread of the virus, besides cracking down on the prostitutes.

It said the proximity of Batam to Singapore and Malaysia, the province's far more advanced neighbors, was also seen as one of the factors boosting the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Visitors to Batam have a choice of 34 karaoke centers and massage parlors, mostly offering commercial sex workers at rates between Rp 200,000 and Rp 500,000. The majority of the prostitutes come from Java and Sumatra.

Head of the city health office Puardi Djarius said the sex workers and foreigners with HIV/AIDS were mainly from outside Batam, and their number was comparatively large in Riau.

He admitted that his office gathered HIV/AIDS data from reports made by various parties, including non-governmental organizations.

"We are waiting for the results of sex workers' blood tests," he said.

Chairman of Batam's Ulema Council Asyari Abbas called on the city administration to include restrictions on the trade on its agenda, while shifting the city's orientation from vice to religion.

Indonesia is moving slowly with its eight-year-old National AIDS Commission (KPA) to prevent the possible emergence of an out-of-control HIV epidemic.

Only the Ministry of Health seems serious in dealing with the spread of HIV, while other ministries play only minor roles.