West Papua has highest HIV/AIDS rate in Indonesia

Moni man, Papua.
Moni man, Papua.
© Survival

Indonesia’s National AIDS Commission confirmed last month that West Papua still has the highest HIV/AIDS rate in Indonesia.

It is believed that the number of people with HIV/AIDS in West Papua is far higher than the official figures. Known cases of the disease represent only a fraction of the number of people infected, especially in remote areas.

The extremely high rate of HIV/AIDS in Papua is largely a result of the flourishing commercial sex industry, which is in turn associated with the mining, logging and fishing industries. Timika, the city near to the American-owned Grasberg copper and gold mine, has the fourth highest transmission rate of all cities in Indonesia.

The Indonesian government has failed to reach Papuans with HIV/AIDS awareness programmes, tests or treatments. Negative stereotypes of Papuan tribal people held by the Indonesian government and health workers have exacerbated the problem, with treatment and awareness programmes being largely aimed at the non-tribal population: Indonesian immigrants to Papua who are ethnically and culturally distinct from the Papuans.

After years of abuse and repression, Papuans are suspicious of government projects, especially those connected to contraception. Some blame the military more directly for deliberately bringing prostitutes infected with the virus into tribal areas. Soldiers have been known to offer alcohol and sex workers to tribal leaders in order to gain access to their land and its resources.

For more information and to take action see Survival’s campaign, Progress Can Kill, on the impact of imposed ‘development’ on tribal people.