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INDONESIA: Juliana Yarisetou, "I would say 75 percent of Papuans don't believe there is HIV"
"the doctors didn’t know much about HIV/AIDS - they told me to go home and rest"
Jayapura, 8 January 2009 (IRIN) - Juliana Yarisetou works as an AIDS advocacy officer for the international NGO Family Health International in Jayapura, the capital of Indonesia’s Papua Province. Papua has the country’s highest HIV prevalence rate at 2.4 percent, and the ingredients for a far worse epidemic. IRIN/PlusNews spoke to Yarisetou after she had participated in a local radio call-in programme.
“When I was on the radio, so many people called in. The problem is some of them still don’t know about HIV, how it’s transmitted, what to do if you are HIV positive. Some of them haven’t seen somebody who is HIV positive and so don’t believe the virus is real. I would say 75 percent of Papuans don’t believe there is such a thing as HIV.
“When I’m doing my advocacy on the radio some of the listeners doubt me because they can’t [physically] see me. I tell them you must believe because I am HIV positive, and the virus could be in your community. It’s a little bit different if I’m on television – people call in and want to know more about HIV, and you can have interactive panel discussions.
“I’ve been infected since 2004. I got very sick in 2005 and weighed 22 kg – before that I was 86 kg. I went to the hospital but it was very difficult to get treatment – the doctors didn’t know much about HIV/AIDS. They told me to go home and rest.
“A nurse from [another] hospital visited my home with staff from an NGO, and took me to hospital. They checked my CD4 [which measures the strength of the immune system] and put me on ARVs [antiretroviral therapy]. After taking the ARVs my weight increased to 60 kg.
“I had five children. The youngest was HIV positive and died in 2005. It was two-years-old and was losing weight and had diarrhoea for three days. My husband died in 2004, he was a gardener. In 2004 I didn’t know anything about AIDS – I thought it was just for sex workers, and I kept asking ‘Why me?’
“After the community knew I was HIV positive all of them discriminated against me; they didn’t want to be around me, eat or drink with me. An NGO came to the village and educated the community, the church also gave support. Since then I have been open about my status.”
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]