Wed, Jun 20, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Study finds Papua's HIV rate is 15 times Indonesian average


Almost half the residents of Indonesia's remote Papua Pro-vince have never heard of HIV, despite the virus' prevalence there being 15 times the national average, new internationally funded research shows.

The lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases is a major contributor to the burgeoning epidemic in the region, according to a copy of the report.

The 90-page document, Risk Behavior and HIV Prevalence in Papua 2006, urges more spending on sexual education and condom availability.

Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country and has one of Asia's fastest growing HIV rates, with up to 290,000 infections out of 235 million people, fueled mainly by injecting drug users and prostitution.

The nation's HIV prevalence rate of 0.1 percent remains small compared with an Asian average of 0.4 percent and 6.1 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.

But health authorities warn that a failure to take prompt action in areas like Papua -- the most isolated and poorest part of the nation -- could push Indonesia's number of infections to 1 million by 2010.

The disease has already infected 2.4 percent of Papua's population, according to the research, which is due to be published today.

Researchers found 48 percent of the people in Papua were unaware of HIV/AIDS, with that figure as high as 74 percent among the uneducated.

"An intensive and specific strategy needs to be developed and established to prevent further spread of the disease [to avert] a generalized epidemic as already happened in sub-Sahara Africa," the researchers wrote, recommending awareness programs for sex workers and young adults.

HIV prevalence reached 5.6 percent among non-circumcised men in Papua, compared to 1 percent among circumcised men, reinforcing previous international studies that found circumcision reduces the risk of catching the virus.

The population survey was based on interviews and blood samples from 6,300 respondents, aged 15 to 49, last September and October. It was funded by the World Bank, the US government and US nonprofit Family Health International.

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