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Women and girls reduced to poverty by HIV/AIDS in Indonesia

Although the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is much lower in Asia than in some other regions, women and children in Indonesia are facing a growing threat from the disease.

Nationally, only around 0.2% of the population is infected. However, this represents a doubling in the numbers of people living with the disease in just a few years. In 2005, there were 170,000 people infected with HIV/AIDS in Indonesia; this had risen to 300,000 in 2009.

Up until recently, most infections occurred in specific regions, such as Papua and West Papua, or among high-risk populations, such as sex workers, drug users and men having sex with men. However, the epidemic is now spreading geographically and to different sectors of society. In 2004, HIV cases had been reported in 16 provinces; in 2009, the disease was present in 32 of Indonesia’s 33 provinces. And there has been an increase in the number of infections among women and children. In 2009, females represented a quarter of all those living with HIV/AIDS, compared to 21% in 2006.

A new report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – ‘The Socio-Economic Impact of HIV at the Household Level in Asia’ – highlights the vulnerability of Indonesia’s women when HIV/AIDS enters their lives. Women frequently have to shoulder the financial burden of a household if their partners can no longer work. And if they’re widowed, over two-thirds will be denied inheritance rights.

Since 2004, Indonesia has had a social security programme which provides health insurance and death benefits. However, the International Labour Organization estimates around half the population is not yet covered, leaving many financially vulnerable. In the report’s study, Indonesian families affected by HIV/AIDS were 38% more likely to live below the international poverty line of 1.25 dollars per person per day. Many families spoke of having to sell assets in order to pay medical costs. And girls of affected families are more likely to be taken out of school, not only to save money, but also so the youngsters can help care for sick family members.

To add to all their financial concerns, Indonesian women living with the HIV/AIDS also face widespread discrimination. It is a common perception that a woman must have been ‘bad’ in some way in order to have the disease. Increased awareness about HIV/AIDS will hopefully help to counter such attitudes. And Indonesia’s parliament has voted to introduce universal health coverage by 2014. But until then, many of the country’s women and girls affected by HIV/AIDS face a real struggle in their day to day lives.

Laurinda Luffman signature