Honorable Mention

The Struggle to Survive: HIV/AIDS in Papua

  • Photographer
    Andri Tambunan
  • Date of Photograph
    February-March of 2009

1:Street prostitutes, Betrix (25) and Natalia (16), both HIV positive share a cigarette as they wait for potential clients in the capitol of Papua, Jayapura. 2:Rejected by his family because he has AIDS, Daud (23) found refuge at a local hospice in Jayapura. 3:Linde, age 10, a victim of rape, waits for her blood result at a local hospital. 4:Inside a known brothel, Bar Kharisma, a customer looks through a one-way mirror before making his selection. 5:A woman with AIDS living under a bridge in the city of Jayapura.


Papua is the most eastern province of Indonesia. According to NGOs, such as World Health Organization and International Labour Organization, Papua currently has the highest percentage of HIV/AIDS infection outside of Africa. The Indonesian National Commission on HIV/AIDS recently reported that the number of AIDS cases per 100,000 people is almost 20 times the national average. Forty-eight percent of Papuans are unaware of HIV/AIDS. The percentage of people who reported being unaware of HIV/AIDS increases to 74 percent among uneducated populations in the region. One of the causes of the spread of HIV/AIDS in Papua is the lack of government intervention. However, some argued the inaction of the Indonesian government to educate Papuans and stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in Papua was done purposely. Indonesian army has a long history of human rights violations against the Papuan tribal peoples according to the Human Rights Watch. Indonesia occupied Papua in 1963 to acquire its natural resources such as timber and gold. In the past, Papua have made attempts to separate from Indonesia and become autonomous. Such mistrust felt by the Papuans led some to believe that the Indonesian army is deliberately introducing HIV as a tool of genocide. Nevertheless, this epidemic is now spreading among the general population, including among housewives and children, and not just in high-risk groups such as workers of sex industry and its clients, the gay community, and drug users. Papuans age 20-29 who is mobile and sexually active now shares the same risk. Moreover, wives are also at great risk since the husbands tend to have sex outside of marriage or sometimes have several wives. In addition to polygamous culture, this epidemic is magnified by the growth of sex industry around the mining and logging industries, poverty and poor economy, and Papua’s mountainous region. Moreover, the stigma against the use of condoms is still great and the stigma against people with HIV/AIDS is even greater. Many people with HIV/AIDS are scared to come forward for help due to fear of rejection or retribution from family members and the community. Looking at the trend, 1 million people (6% of population) will be infected with HIV/AIDS by 2010. **Currently, the Indonesian government restricts entry of foreign journalist. In fact, foreign journalists require special police permission to enter Papua province and are unable to carry out independent research.

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