AIDS Educators in Indonesia Forced To ‘Water Down’ Prevention Messages Due to Objections From Islamic Fundamentalist Groups, WSJ Reports
AIDS educators in Indonesia "find it increasingly necessary to water down" their HIV/AIDS prevention messages because of objections from the country's "small but increasingly outspoken" Islamic fundamentalist groups, the Wall Street Journal reports. Although the country has had historically low HIV rates, the number of newly reported HIV cases increased 62% in 2003, leading the World Health Organization to list the country as a higher priority than China and Thailand, where millions of people are HIV-positive. HIV has been spreading primarily through the country's injection drug users and commercial sex workers, the Journal reports. About 10 million men visit the country's commercial sex workers each year and fewer than 10% use condoms, according to the health ministry. Although Indonesia's "much larger and more mainstream" Muslim groups generally support the fight against AIDS, some fundamentalist groups object to some of the techniques employed by AIDS educators, according to the Journal. In addition, some moderate groups have objected to condom education campaigns. "In Islam, having sex outside marriage is forbidden. Since it is an illicit act, the use of condoms by an unmarried couple is also proscribed," Ma'ruf Amin, head of a commission at the Indonesian Ulemas Council, the country's highest Islamic authority, said, adding that the council urges Muslims to prevent HIV/AIDS by "being more religious and closer to family and society." Several AIDS education commercials have been pulled or revised to be less explicit at the urging of fundamentalist groups. The health ministry has said it will not be intimidated by protests from fundamentalist groups and plans to move forward with its national AIDS prevention strategy, which includes improving AIDS education programs in schools and training for health care workers and expanding voluntary HIV testing and counseling centers (Prystay/Mapes, Wall Street Journal, 3/25).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.