As many as 20,000 convicted drug offenders around the country are running the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, a cabinet minister said on Friday.
Briefing the press after signing a memorandum of understanding with the National AIDS Prevention Commission (KPAN) in Jakarta, Justice and Human Rights Minister Andi Matalatta said the figure was just based on those detained for drug abuse, whose numbers reach about 40,000 nationwide.
“So half of the people detained or jailed for drug abuse are vulnerable to HIV/AIDS,” Andi said.
The minister did not explain why people in detention or prison were vulnerable to contracting HIV, but reports of inmates taking drugs or engaging in the illicit prison drug trade abound.
Echoing concerns expressed by health activists, Andi said that drug users were the group most vulnerable to HIV transmission and inmates involved in abusing drugs were no exception.
To prevent transmission among inmates, the ministry and KPAN agreed to use part of the budget from a global fund allocated to preventing HIV/AIDS transmission in Indonesia.
The money, worth Rp 9.43 billion ($95,00), would be used for educational activities and to handle health problems caused by the disease.
Andi said that the high transmission rates among inmates were linked to many problems, including overcapacity in detention facilities, which affects the quality of medical services there.
Andi said Indonesia only had facilities enough for 80,000 prisoners but jails were currently crammed with more than 130,000 inmates.
Meanwhile, Nafsiah Mboi, the National HIV/AIDS Commission secretary, said the economic empowerment of AIDS sufferers and their families would become an integral part of the national program to manage the issue.
The empowerment program was expected to help people living with the disease to deal with their economic situation, Nafsiah said after a meeting with the first lady, Ani Yudhoyono, on Friday.
“They need money to pay for their therapy and medical treatment,” she said. “Hopefully the economic empowerment program will help them earn some money.”
Nafsiah met with the first lady and Zubairi Djoerban, chairman of the organizing committee of the 9th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific.
Nafsiah said Ani, in her capacity as the country’s National AIDS ambassador, expressed her support for the empowerment plan.
Zubairi, meanwhile, said that around 3,000 participants representing 65 countries in Asia and the Pacific would attend the AIDS congress in Bali from Aug. 9. The congress aims to strengthen networks to effectively respond to the AIDS pandemic.
Before the congress begins, Ani will hold a high-level meeting with Australia’s AIDS ambassador, Murray Proctor, to address the role of AIDS ambassadors in the region and how they can be mobilized to generate more action on the issue.