PLWHA walks across country to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS
The Jakarta Post
The Jakarta Post
Wijianto, 30, a person living with HIV/AIDs is on a mission to raise awareness of the conditions and to eliminate the stigma attached to people with the condition by traversing the country on foot.
Wijianto, aka Gareng, said on Monday that there was discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA).
Gareng chose to walk to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and on the importance of healthy living.
He said he wanted to change the misconception that PLWHA were weak, sickly, useless and no better than garbage.
By walking, he wants to show people that PLWHA are healthy and can be beneficial to society.
"I call this mission Cruising the Country on Foot to Promote [awareness of] HIV/AIDS. The purpose is also to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, support other PLWHAs, eliminate the stigma and discrimination against PLWHAs," he told kompas.com.
Gareng started his journey when he stepped out of his house in Jakarta on Nov. 7 on his 33rd birthday. He walked more than 210 kilometers from Jakarta to Cirebon. During his journey, he passed through several cities in West Java, such as Bogor, Ciawi, Sukabumi, Cianjur, Cimahi, Bandung, Sumedang and Majalengka, before arriving in Cirebon.
The Nganjuk, East Java, native will continue his trip on foot as far as the eastern part of the country. He plans to walk through Central Java, East Java, Bali, Makassar, Kendari, Ambon, Manokwari, Halmahera, Gorontalo, Manado, Palu and other areas.
Gareng aims to complete his mission after two years in November 2017.
He is carrying only clothes, maps, notebooks, medicines and antiretrovial drugs to help his immune system. Everything is kept in a backpack bearing a poster reading "cruising the country on foot to prevent the spread of HIV and support infected people". A small Indonesian flag also hangs from his bag.
Gareng said he faced many challenges on his mission because many people doubted that he would be able to walk far.
However, his strong determination to promote HIV/AIDS prevention so that no one will find themselves in the same position as him keeps him on his feet.
His only daughter, he said, was his biggest supporter.
"In 2012, I had my daughter checked by a doctor and she is healthy and [HIV] negative. It raised my spirits and determination to start this long mission," he said.
Gareng told kompas.com that initially he was diagnosed with TB and respiratory problems caused by drugs.
The count on his CD4 cells, a type of white blood cells that fight infection, dropped drastically to 24 from the normal range of 500 to1,500. He also had blisters on his body and blood spots on his face, mouth and body.
"At that time I was diagnosed as HIV positive. Nurses should have understood [the illness], but they did not. They seemed to be scared, stayed away from me and even acted disgusted. No one even wanted to accept money from me to buy food," he said at the Cirebon AIDS Prevention Commission (KPA) without further details on when he was diagnosed.
His wife also gradually became estranged as she was scared of his condition.
Gareng said he worked in a furniture shop in Surabaya in 2002. From there he became involved with people addicted to putaw (low-grade heroin).
He refused to try the drug at first but eventually succumbed to the temptation and became addicted. He used it regularly for three years until 2005.
"In 2005, my family learned of my addiction and took me home to be treated," he said.
During treatment, he suffered sakaw (withdrawal symptoms) until he was gradually cured of his addiction.
Gareng then moved to Jakarta to start a new life.
He worked as a security officer in 2011. He often worked the night shift, which he says left him vulnerable to lung disease. It was at that time that he was diagnosed as having HIV.
Tribunnews.com reported that National Population and Family Planning Board (BKKBN) head Surya Chandra Surapty said last week that as of June 2015, there were 178,000 people living with HIV and 67,000 AIDS cases in Indonesia. (rin)(+)
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