Yemris Fointuna and Yuli Tri Suwarni, The Jakarta Post, Kupang, Bandung | Tue, 02/03/2009 3:41 PM
Eleven children below the age of five in East Nusa Tenggara are believed to have been infected with HIV/AIDS.
While campaigns against the disease have intensified in Bandung, West Java, especially among young people.
The East Nusa Tenggara AIDS Eradication Commission (KPAD) recorded 538 HIV/AIDS cases as of 2008, the majority of which involve people in their productive years, between 25 and 49 years old. Of this number, 345 are HIV positive and 184 AIDS positive, 11 of them toddlers.
KPAD secretary Gusti Brewon said Monday that based on reports from 20 regencies and municipalities in the province, the number of HIV/AIDS cases had increased in 2008 compared to the previous year.
"The number of deaths recorded up to the end of 2008 was 112 people and most of those living with HIV/AIDS, numbering 446 people, are in their productive years," he said.
He said many cases had not been identified due to the harsh topography of the province.
"Workers handling HIV/AIDS cases have done their best to identify cases, but many go undetected," he said, adding the 11 toddlers who had been diagnosed with the disease were born to parents living with HIV/AIDS.
In Bandung, the anti-HIV/AIDS campaign will be intensified and aimed at junior high school students.
The huge number of cases among young people in Bandung has driven the local health office and groups concerned with tackling the issue to step up their campaign in order to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Head of the Contagious Diseases Control Division at the Bandung Health Office Rita Verita said the HIV/AIDS campaign for junior high school students would be launched this year and involved three schools in the initial stage.
The HIV/AIDS awareness campaign for senior high school students was initiated in 2004 but has only reached 10 schools in Bandung.
She said the younger generation should be involved in the fight against the disease, given the high number of cases - 62.9 percent of the 1,715 cases in Bandung are of people between 20 and 2. Rita added almost 70 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS in Bandung were identified as injecting drug addicts and had been sharing needles since they were in junior high school.
"Some of them are not yet 20 and have been infected with AIDS, which shows that they have been infected since they were in junior high school. Children of that age are still developing their personalities and are vulnerable to risks, such as the use of intravenous drugs," said Rita in Bandung on Saturday.
She added campaigns involving the community and NGOs had not been too effective in controlling the number of cases due to their limited human resources; however HIV/AIDS awareness would be more successful if more junior and senior high school students, being from the same age groups, were involved as campaigners
"We will reach out to the youths," said Rita, although she was still unclear as to when the campaign for junior high school students would begin as the budget has not yet been disbursed.
Bandung KPAD head Sukarno said his office had been working together with 11 anti-HIV/AIDS groups in Bandung thus far, but added the stigma and discrimination against people living with the disease remained a stumbling block in their fight against the disease.
"If we could dispel this stigma, we could reach out to more people, and programs would be easier to accomplish. But it is hard to raise people's awareness on this issue," Sukarno said. Sukarno also regretted the lack of support from the city administration and the legislature in campaigning on and tackling the issue in Bandung. The KPAD has been provided with only Rp 250 million (US$21,900) annually to cope with the problem in a city of around 2.5 million people.
"The funds are spent on administrative affairs and operations. We lack funds for public awareness campaigns and can only rely on donations from concerned groups," Sukarno said.