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Indonesia: Empowering youth to fight HIV/AIDS

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© UNICEF video
Young people learning about HIV/AIDS in Indonesia.

By John Budd

BOGOR, Indonesia, 17 October 2005 – David Gordon spins a marker pen on the floor in front of a group of young Indonesians and asks the person the marker points to: “What’s the best way to get HIV messages to most young people in Indonesia?”

Twenty-two adolescents respond almost as one: “Music!”

It is Day 20 of a month-long course for HIV peer group educators in the West Java city of Bogor, about an hour south of Jakarta. This UNICEF-sponsored course provides the young participants with information on HIV/AIDS and helps build up their counselling skills. It also addresses drug abuse and addiction; a very high proportion of intravenous drug users in Indonesia are believed to be HIV-positive.

David Gordon and his wife Joyce run one of the few drug and rehabilitation centres in Indonesia. It’s called ‘Yayasan Harapan Permata Hati Kita’ – in English, ‘Our Children’s Hope’. It’s known to most people as YAKITA, an Indonesian play on words meaning “Yes, Us!”.

An expanding problem

UNICEF and YAKITA are partners in an ambitious pilot programme to train young people from the greater Jakarta area and from three provinces – Bandung, Makassar, and Bali – to be peer group educators on issues related to HIV and AIDS. The project is the brainchild of UNICEF AIDS project officer Rachel Odede.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
Peer group educators, trained with UNICEF support, teach other young people the facts about HIV/AIDS prevention.

“I’ve done something like this in Eritrea and Mozambique, and I shared about this with David and Joyce, who then developed it further,” Ms. Odede says. “We’ve got much to do. Greater Jakarta alone is home to about 20 million people.”

It’s a race against time in this sprawling nation of 210 million. Officially there are 4,389 people living with HIV/AIDS, but the Indonesian Government estimates the real figure is closer to 130,000. No one knows for sure because the stigma surrounding HIV keeps the truth hidden – usually until too late, if at all.

David Gordon says that some estimates now indicate that about half of intravenous drug users across Jakarta are HIV-positive. The problem among drug users has exploded. “So many people are using heroin, and share needles regularly or semi-regularly, and so many are also sexually active, it’s hard to find accurate numbers,” he says.

Effective education

Indonesia now has six HIV hotspots. Intravenous drug users drive epidemics in Jakarta, nearby Bandung, and the tourist destination of Bali, while commercial sex fuels epidemics in Surabaya, Makassar and Papua.

Without immediate intervention to stop the spread of the disease, the Indonesia Ministry of Health estimates that by 2010 there will be approximately 110,000 people who will either have full-blown AIDS or will have died of the disease, and another one million more who will be HIV-positive.

UNICEF in Indonesia focuses on two key interventions: building life skills for young people and preventing mother-to-child transmission. The organization is applying a number of approaches, including peer group education, awareness campaigns, and incorporating prevention information into school curricula.

The course at YAKITA demonstrates how these approaches can be effective. Rachel Odede says: “The young people are selected to participate in the programme because they show interest in the issues, are good communicators, and are also very representative of the average Indonesia adolescent or young adult.

“They come here, for the most part, ignorant and naive about these issues, and most often fearful of people affected by HIV. By the time they leave they have an educated real-life understanding about the issues and people,” she adds.

The ‘carry the message’ strategy

So far, four Empowered Youth groups of up to 25 participants each have been trained by UNICEF and YAKITA in peer life skills education.

The young people help ‘carry the message’ as they go back to their home towns and work with their peer groups. They have themselves now reached over 6,000 other young people in schools, campuses, on the street, in hospitals, and even military training barracks, in the short time they have been active.

And they have begun training other peer educators – more than 100 to date – in how to spread the message further.

“It is a start,” says UNICEF’S Odede to the couple. “We need to do a lot more!”


 

 

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17 October 2005:
UNICEF’s Steve Nettleton reports on the ‘Empowered Youth’ peer education training programmes for fighting HIV/AIDS in Indonesia.

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