11 Juli 2017

Lack of HIV comprehension causes misery

Yuli Tri Suwarni, The Jakarta Post, Bandung

[Sumber: The Jakarta Post,  Jakarta, 24 Agustus 2005]

Maya (not a real name) broke into tears when a well-known newspaper printed her full name as well as a detailed description of her and her job in its recent article.

The article would not have shattered her world, if it was not for the fact, as pointed out in the story, that she is living with HIV. It has been a year since the 26-year-old tested positive for HIV and only her closest family members — her parents and siblings — had been aware of her condition.

“The journalist never asked for my permission to print my full name in the article or whether I would allow my comments during the HIV/AIDS night in December to be published. I’m really disappointed,” she told a group of journalists at a recent workshop on HIV/AIDS reporting, which was organized by the Indonesia HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care Project (IHPCP) and West Java AIDS Prevention Commission in Bandung.

She still cries when she recalls how her father threw the paper at her when she arrived home the day it was published.

Later, her angry father demanded that if people asked her whether she was the person in the paper, then Maya had to tell them it was not her. “But, is it that easy? People will not believe me,” she said.

“Sorry, it is not our responsibility because the person who did the story was an intern reporter and not one of our official reporters.” That’s what the newspaper’s editor told Maya when Maya demanded that he be held responsible for the story.

“I wanted to take the newspaper to court but I couldn’t because if I had, even more people would know that I was infected with HIV,” explained Maya.

Maya’s story is yet more evidence that many Indonesians still cannot accept people that have the virus. There is an overall perception that people with HIV got it because of their own moral transgressions; namely casual sex or needle-sharing by drug addicts. The fact is that many get HIV by other means, through no fault of their own, such as blood transfusions.

Worse, the stigmatization has been strengthened by the country’s media, the institution that is supposed to enlighten people on this and other issues.

Another story printed in a local newspaper last month had the factually incorrect headline: “Based on Urine Tests, 6 Prostitutes in Pangandaran Confirmed to Have Been Infected with the HIV.”

“It’s ridiculous. How can the HIV virus be detected through a urine test. The journalist should have been better informed,” said another person with HIV.

 Syaiful W. Harahap, a media observer, said that there had been no significant progress in reporting on the HIV/AIDS issue since 1987, when the first HIV/AIDS case — on Bali — was made public.

Syaiful, who wrote a book entitled “How the Press Covers AIDS”, said that some 90 percent of stories that covered HIV/AIDS issues were misleading and did not tell the readers the whole truth.

The stories were full of myths, said Syaiful who analyzed Indonesian newspaper stories on AIDS between 1981 and 2000.

The situation greatly concerns Syaiful, especially since the virus is spreading in this country at fast pace. By the end of June this year, the number people living with HIV/AIDS in the country reached 7,098 (the government’s confirmed number), but the estimated amount was approximately 150,000, according to Coordinating Minister of People’s Welfare Alwi Shihab, who is also the chairman of the National Committee to Eradicate AIDS.

The numbers showed sharp increases compared to last year’s figure of 6,050 confirmed cases.

Syaiful said that the mass media had to work closer with the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the government to fight the disease. Such cooperation could help fight the disease, he said. The media workers themselves have to improve their skills and understanding about reports on HIV/AIDS in order to enlighten people, thus providing strong preventative measures against the disease.

The skills and understanding have to be improved because, at present, most journalists were found lacking in both those areas. One blatant example was the Maya case.

People living with HIV ideally should be treated as equal to people infected with dengue or other common health issues, but the reality is people in this country stigmatize them — some calling them “enemies of the community” — so local journalists need to have much more understanding and discretion.

Simply put, domestic journalists must become wiser in reporting on people with HIV, Syaiful asserted. *

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