Gay Stigma Hampering HIV Treatment: Experts

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The Jakarta Globe

Dessy Sagita

Efforts to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS are being held back by health workers' reluctance to treat high-risk groups including transsexuals, gays and bisexuals, officials have warned.

Rohana Manggala, head of the Jakarta branch of the Commission on HIV/AIDS Prevention (KPA), said on Thursday that health facilities in the capital needed to be more inclusive.

"Generally, health services for HIV/AIDS tests and treatment is getting better, but we have to admit there are still many health workers who attach strong stigma to certain groups," she said.

To tackle this problem, she said Governor Fauzi Bowo had asked the KPA to draft policies that would allow transsexuals, gays and bisexuals to access health services more freely.

Rohana said the KPA would provide sensitivity training beginning in the middle of the year at five selected puskesmas , community health centers, in each of Jakarta's five municipalities.

She said health workers would be given a deeper understanding about the affected minority groups and how to treat them without discomfort or prejudice.

"This is just a pilot project. If it's successful, we'll continue to other puskesmas and hopefully the government will support us with funding," she said.

Tono Purnama Muhammad, national coordinator for a gay and transsexual network, said many of his group's members were reluctant to seek health services because of the stigma.

"Most health facilities in Jakarta provide health services for sexually transmitted infections and voluntary counseling and testing for HIV/AIDS, but only a few have proper understanding about gays, bisexuals and transgendered people," he said. "As a result, many people from this community are reluctant to have themselves checked because they don't want to be judged."

Rohana said getting the word out to gay men about the importance of health checks was difficult because they tended to conceal their sexual orientation.

"We're campaigning for greater awareness at schools so teenagers who are sexually active, with the same sex or the opposite sex, can protect themselves," she said.

The Health Ministry reported that as of December, there were more than 24,000 AIDS cases in Indonesia, of which about 4,000 were in Jakarta.

In 2008, the United Nations estimated that as many as 300,000 Indonesians were living with HIV/AIDS.


Organization:the Commission on HIV/AIDS Prevention (KPA)