Mon, 12 May 2003

Support needed for national drive against HIV/AIDS

Sari P. Setiogi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government is appealing for public support to help it reach the goal of its national strategy against HIV/AIDS.

"A guidebook should be followed with practical action and people's awareness of its content," Husein Habsyi from the Pelita Ilmu foundation, a non-governmental HIV/AIDS organization, told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

The guidebook on the national strategy was launched on Friday as a result of mutual work between the Ministry of Health and the Office of the Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare.

Minister of Health Achmad Suyudi said Indonesia expected to see the growth of HIV infections decline by 67 percent after three to five years since the inception of the strategy.

By the end of May, Indonesia had 2,556 reported HIV cases and 1,086 reported AIDS cases. However, the figure may not describe the reality since many cases are believed go unreported. Some estimate that in 2002 there were 90,000 to 130,000 people with HIV.

Husein warned that by experience, most strategies were only written on paper but had a low incidence of implementation.

"It is important for all the involved institutions to comprehensively read the guidebook," he said, "So they will have an in-depth understanding of the strategy outlined inside."

The guidebook outlines that more than 10 institutions should be involved and work hand-in-hand to fight the virus. Among other parties involved are government institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the community and people with HIV/AIDS (PWAs).

Husein said there many NGOs dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS in Indonesia. In Jakarta alone, the number reaches 100, he said, and they are associated with the NGO Forum Care for HIV/AIDS.

He said the new strategy was far more comprehensive compared to previous ones.

"The new strategy has more comprehensive and easy to understand articles. So it is also expected to be easier to implement," said Husein.

HIV/AIDS in Indonesia is mostly caused by unsafe drug injection, while formerly unprotected sex was the main cause.

According to the Ministry of Health, 73 percent of HIV cases were caused by unprotected sex, while 24 percent was caused by unsafe drug injection.

"People should be aware of this change in trend of transmission, because a different tactic would also be needed to handle the cases," Husein said.

He also urged for the domestic production of antiretroviral (ARV), which would reduce the price of the medicine by up to Rp 400,000 (US$44.40) per supply needed by a PWA per month.

"Generic medication is now available, priced at Rp 700,000 per supply needed by a PWA each month," he said, "However, for some people it is still out financial reach."

He said that at this moment only 800 PWAs could afford the medicine every month. The government expects that by the end of this year 2,000 PWAs will be able to buy ARV.

Pointing to government support, Husein said the minister of health once promised to provide a Rp 200,000 monthly subsidy per PWA.