East Timor's Ticking AIDS Timebomb
January 29, 2010
HIV/AIDS advocates in East Timor are warning the disease could gain a foothold in the tiny Indonesian nation of 1.1 million people. Though it has a low HIV prevalence, East Timor registered a 20-fold increase in cases from the six recorded in 2003 to 117 in 2009, government figures show.
Especially worrying to advocates are low condom use, promiscuity among youths, and general ignorance. More than 40 percent of the population in the strongly Roman Catholic nation is under age 15. Females have, on average, eight children; roughly 40 percent of men are illiterate.
A 2004 study by Family Health International found a 3 percent HIV prevalence among female sex workers. About 40 percent of sex workers did not know what a condom was, while none requested that clients use one. HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men (MSM) was 1 percent, and many MSM also reported female sex partners.
Of the 117 HIV cases registered in 2009, most were transmitted heterosexually. Those most affected were people ages 15-29, said Narciso Fernandes, HIV/AIDS officer for the health ministry.
Data gathered from groups across East Timor indicate the real rate of infection could be much higher, said National AIDS Commission member Francisco Jeronimo. Dr. Daniel Murphy of the Bairo Pite Clinic in Dili noted many people do not seek HIV testing.
Kat Ming Leung, HIV/AIDS technical advisor for the East Timor Red Cross, said the government should rethink its strategy of targeting high-risk groups and consider successful campaigns found in other Asian nations. "My concern is that the current response model is looking primarily at high-risk groups and missing the general population -- particularly young people," she said.
Agence France Presse
12.31.2009; Matt Crook
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.