Papuan HIV/Aids Rate 10 Times Official Figure
Papuan HIV/Aids rate ‘10 times’ the official figure
By Melanie Allan - Story and image courtesy of Te Waha Nui Online
HIV/Aids is a growing threat to the West Papuan people and researchers claim the Indonesian-ruled province has an infection rate 10 times higher than official figures.
Rev Socratez Sofyan Yoman, president of the Fellowship of Baptist Churches in West Papua, is in New Zealand for a conference at AUT University and a country-wide tour to raise awareness about human rights abuses happening daily in his Indonesian-ruled province.
He says the threat of an HIV/Aids epidemic is a major concern for West Papua.
“More than 2000 Papuans are infected with HIV/Aids, including women, children, youth and government employees,” he says. The problem is multiplied by the number of brothels staffed by women infected with the disease.
Dr Noonan: End transmigration - only solution. Photo: Del Abcede
An Australian medical doctor and activist for human rights in West Papua, Dr Anne Noonan, is particularly concerned about the high HIV infection rate.
She says while the official Indonesian statistics state the number of infected people in West Papua is 2199, she estimates the actual number to be about 10 times that.
“The rate of infection in West Papua is twice that of their neighbours, Papua New Guinea,” she told the weekend conference.
Statistics from surveys of pregnant women showed two per cent of women tested positive to HIV in Papua New Guinea, compared to 3.8 per cent in West Papua.
“This is probably a good indication of the HIV rate of the whole population.”
“Once it gets as high as four per cent, it starts to escalate much more rapidly,” Dr Noonan says.
“It may not be long until the rate is in double figures, possibly up there with South Africa at 40 per cent infected.”
Heterosexual intercourse is the main form of transmission in West Papua.
“Men get infected when they go to Indonesia, and when they come back they infect more West Papuan women.”
Dr Noonan argues that ending transmigration is the only solution. “Until the HIV problem can get sorted out, it’s absolutely essential that transmigration stops.”
Few youth recognise condoms
Added to the problem is the fact that a lot of men in West Papua do not take responsibility by using protection during intercourse.
“There was a survey of Papuan youth, and only four per cent recognised a condom!” One way to prevent the spread of HIV is female condoms, but this will also reduce fertility rates.
“Every West Papuan really wants freedom and they want to keep their population up, so they want to have more babies,” she says.
This is in direct contrast to the message from the Indonesia government that promotes a two children policy.
Dr Noonan says this low fertility policy involves encouraging sterilisation and use of the contraceptive pill and is particularly aimed at the West Papuan people. “There is tremendous resistance to the fertility programme among West Papuans,” she says. “They’re suspicious that they’re trying to reduce their population, wipe them out.
“The more educated Papuans say, ‘if the army won’t get us, HIV will.”