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Commentary & Opinion
Women's Vulnerabilities Need to Be Addressed to Fight Indonesian Epidemics of HIV/AIDS, Injection Drug Use

June 29, 2005

Indonesia cannot "win the war" against the twin epidemics of HIV/AIDS and drug use, particularly injection drug use, without "taking into consideration women's vulnerability," Sudirman Nasir, a postgraduate student at the University of Melbourne, writes in a Jakarta Post opinion piece. The World Health Organization and UNAIDS estimated that between 53,000 and 180,000 people living in Indonesia were HIV-positive in 2003, and the Indonesian National AIDS Commission estimates that there are 12 million to 19 million others at risk of contracting the virus, according to Nasir. In addition, Nasir notes that the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime estimates there are 4.5 million injection drug users in India, China and Indonesia. "Risky injecting practices among injecting drug users, such as sharing needles and syringes, as well as risky sexual behavior, i.e. multiple sex partners and a low level of condom use, are the reasons for the rapid spread of HIV among this group," Nasir writes. Women are biologically more susceptible to HIV infection, generally have a lower social status than men -- making them economically and socially dependent upon men -- and have less ability to negotiate safer sex with men, Nasir says. In addition, research shows that once women engage in injection drug use, they frequently use commercial sex work to support their habits, putting them at greater risk of HIV infection, Nasir says, adding, "It is such a truism in public health that once HIV and drug use affect women severely, it becomes a threat for the whole population due to women's crucial reproductive role" (Nasir, Jakarta Post, 6/28).

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