Over the past decade, the rise of HIV/AIDS in Indonesia has been largely confined to drug users and those on the outskirts of society. As long as the disease was restricted to this small group, the rest of Indonesian society did not feel the need to treat it seriously.
But as World AIDS Day is commemorated across the globe today, that sanguine mindset may have to be changed.
Health officials are now warning of a worrying increase in the number of young women contracting the virus, particularly through sexual violence.
In 1989, women accounted for just 2.5 percent of all people living with HIV/AIDS in the country, according to the National Commission on AIDS (KPAN). By 2009, however, they made up 25.5 percent of cases. And this number is likely to increase further as gender-based violence continues to rise.
According to Nafsiah Mboi, KPAN’s secretary, up to 48 percent of women between the ages of 10 and 24 years are either raped or forced into having sex by their boyfriends or partner.
This shocking statistic clearly illustrates the lack of protection women receive here. If their boyfriend or partner is infected with HIV, the woman and her children are also condemned.
The total number of Indonesians infected by HIV/AIDS may still be a small percentage of the total population.
KPAN predicts HIV prevalence among Indonesians aged 15 to 49 will increase to 0.37 percent in 2014 from 0.22 percent in 2008, while the number of people with HIV/AIDS will increase to 541,700 in 2014 from 371,800 in 2010.
That, however, should not in any way lessen the worry.
HIV/AIDS is on the rise in the country and it is moving into mainstream society. If no action is taken to stem the tide, it is not inconceivable that Indonesia may face a crisis in the not too distant future.
Prevention is the key and the way to combat this deadly disease is through education.
Young women must be taught to better protect themselves from sexual violence while society must take a harder stance against such practices.
Sex outside of marriage must be discouraged, with schools, religious institutions and parents playing key roles in educating young people on the dangers of unprotected sex with multiple partners.
As the country urbanizes and traditional cultural values are eroded, we can expect cultural norms to change, especially if young people are living apart from their families.
If left unchecked, such behavior could lead to an explosion of HIV/AIDS in the country.
Stemming the flow of intravenous drugs is also critical in the battle against HIV/AIDS.
The disease often spreads fast amongst drug users who share needles and it is the responsibility of the police to stop illegal drugs from entering the country.
We can no longer turn a blind eye toward the spread of this disease. We must confront it and ensure that it does not destroy us.