HIV prevalence grows among RI teens
Hans Nicholas Jong
The Jakarta Post
Indonesia is witnessing a growing rate of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections among adolescents, the most vulnerable population, a UN Asia Pacific report has shown.
The report, released by the Asia Pacific Inter-Agency Task Team on Young Key Populations and UNICEF just ahead of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, finds that Indonesia is one of two countries in the region to have seen an increase in the estimated number of new HIV infections among adolescents aged 14 to 19 from 2004 to 2014.
'The HIV burden among adolescents falls heaviest on 10 countries, namely India, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, China, Cambodia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and Pakistan, which together account for 98 percent of adolescents living with HIV in the region,' the report said.
According to the report, the estimated number of new HIV infections among adolescents in Indonesia stood at 15,000 in 2014, rising from 12,000 in 2004.
Besides Indonesia, new HIV infections among those aged 15 to 19 in the Philippines also rose from an estimated 800 in 2010 to 1,210 in 2014 and 1,403 in 2015.
Other countries in the region, however, achieved substantial drops in the number of new HIV infections among adolescents.
The figure in Vietnam, for instance, dropped to 2,600 in 2014 from 5,900 in 2004, while Myanmar's fell to 1,600 in 2014 from 4,300 in 2004. Thailand enjoyed similar success, the rate there decreasing to 1,500 in 2014 from 4,300 in 2004.
The Health Ministry's director of disease control and environmental health, Mohammad Subuh, said that while HIV infections in Indonesia were most prevalent among people between the ages of 20 and 49, many in this group may have been infected since adolescence.
'The incubation period [of HIV] is between five and 10 years. So if someone is diagnosed with HIV when he is 20 years old, he might have been infected since he was 15 years old,' Subuh told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.
The report also said that individuals in their second decade were more vulnerable to being infected with HIV than adults, and harder to care for after transmission, for a host of biological, social, psychological and legal reasons.
'Yet they are a much less powerful constituency, often with low visibility and weak voices. To date they have been a neglected component of national HIV testing, treatment, care and support strategies. This inequity needs to be redressed ' urgently,' the report said.
Indonesia's number of HIV infections among adolescents defied the global trend. Between 2000 and 2014, the global annual rate of new HIV infections among adolescents aged 15-19 fell substantially, mainly because of the decline in new cases from almost 200,000 to 100,000 in eastern and southern Africa.
Meanwhile, the annual number of new HIV cases among adolescents in the entire Asia Pacific region has declined only slightly since 2004.
Overall, the number of HIV infections in Indonesia rose to 177,000 in 2015 from 150,296 cases in 2014, according to data from the Health Ministry.
'But the number mainly rose because there were more people getting tested. So we are currently only seeing the tip of the iceberg,' Subuh said. 'We are targeting HIV prevalence of below 0.5 percent in Indonesia, or around 550,000. So even if the incidence of HIV in Indonesia keeps rising, as long as it is below 550,000, it means it is still under control.'
Furthermore, the number of deaths from HIV in Indonesia has dropped significantly from 40 percent in 2005 to 0.4 percent in 2015, showing remarkable strides since the advent in 1996 of antiretroviral drugs, which suppress HIV, according to Subuh.
Though not a cure, the therapy creates a virtuous circle. The less the virus is in circulation, the less likely it is that people become infected.
Since the first case in Indonesia in 1987, HIV has spread to 381 of the nation's 498 regencies and cities.
Last year, Jakarta, with 32,782 cases, had the highest prevalence of HIV of any province in the country.
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