Indonesia Scraps Plans on Tagging HIV-Positive Patients

Indonesia, an Asian country of about 17,000 islands, has one of the continent’s fastest-growing HIV rates. Around 290,000 infections occurred out of 235 million people, which were spread mainly because of prostitution and intravenous drug use.

The hardest hit is the easternmost province of Papua, which incidentally is also its poorest, where 47% of HIV cases are located. Almost 61 infections occurred for every 100,000 people in Papua, which is 15 times the national average.

Because of this, Indonesia created a series of extreme measures to monitor the disease. For one, Papuan’s provincial government proposed that residents with full-blown AIDS would have microchips implanted beneath their skin. This has sparked strong opposition from government officials, rights activists, and health workers.

Opponents of the proposal, including Papua’s Deputy Governor Alex Hasegem, had called the tagging plan "abhorrent." They also argued that the best way to tackle the province’s HIV epidemic was through increased spending on sexual education and condom use. They blame the lack of knowledge on sexually-transmitted infections, as well as Papua’s culture of "partner-swapping," for the continuing spread of HIV in the province.

"It’s a violation of human rights," Deputy Governor Hasegem said of the proposal.

Meanwhile, Papuan advocate Tahi Ganyang Butarbutar said that the HIV epidemic in the region should be addressed through increased funding on sex education and the promotion of condoms. He also said people who are HIV-positive "are not animals; we have to respect their rights."

The proposal would have enabled authorities to identify, track, and punish Papuans with HIV who intentionally spread the virus with a fine worth US$5,000 or up to six months in jail. The microchip would have monitored the behavior of people living with HIV/ AIDS who are labeled as "aggressive." However, opponents of the proposal said that people with HIV "do not always have sex, especially those with AIDS."

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