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UN Warns Indonesia Facing AIDS Epidemic


The head of the U.N. agency fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS has warned that Indonesia is facing an epidemic of the disease and must act quickly to stop the spread of the deadly virus.

The executive director of UNAIDS, Peter Piot, was speaking in Jakarta Wednesday during a four-day visit to Indonesia.

Mr. Piot, who is spending World AIDS Day, December 1, in Indonesia, says the country is facing a potential AIDS crisis.

"I really wanted to come here because I feel that Indonesia is the new front line in terms of the AIDS epidemic…HIV is definitely spreading in Indonesia. It's clear that the country is in the initial phases of an epidemic," he warned.

The UNAIDS chief said the HIV rate in Indonesia was high, and increasing among drug users, sex workers and their clients, while in the eastern province of Papua the virus had started to spread through the general population.

The U.N. envoy says more needs to be done to fight HIV/AIDS in Indonesia.

"It seems to me that at the top level there's good leadership, there's awareness of what's going on, but I think that overall the response to AIDS is certainly inadequate," he said. "Action on the ground is not as it should be, insufficient funds on the national side, and lack of coordination among government agencies, among donors."

Indonesia's highest estimate for the number of people infected with the virus is 130,000, but the real figure may be much higher.

Health workers fear around half of the country's estimated 600,000 intravenous drug users are infected with HIV.

Discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS and the social stigma attached to the disease have hampered efforts to stop the virus from spreading.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono has vowed to fight the disease, and last year increased government spending on subsidies for antiretroviral drug to $2.5 million, up by nearly one million.

But AIDS activists complain that many of those infected with HIV still cannot afford to get the life saving drugs.

But Mr. Piot emphasized Wednesday that only by implementing effective prevention programs could Indonesia hope to stave off its emerging epidemic.

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