JAKARTA, Indonesia — Pernicious HIV-infection rates among gay men here that have skyrocketed in the last decade-plus amid police raids and vicious anti-gay rhetoric from officials and influential figures have created a stultifying culture for gay life so bad that some gay men with AIDS purposefully stop taking their medication because conditions are so bleak, the Associated Press reports.
According to the United Nations, HIV affects more than a quarter of Indonesian men who have sex with men, up from just 5 percent in 2007, the AP reports. In Jakarta and the capital of Bali province Denpasar, the rate is one in three.
Many are not tested until they exhibit symptoms of illness and by then their immune systems have been compromised. Few are on antiretroviral medication.
Irregular condom use and lack of testing are lacking, officials told the AP.
Many of the outreach workers interviewed by the rights group reported “substantial and unprecedented negative impacts on their ability to contact and counsel” gay and bisexual men, the report said.
In Jakarta, raided venues such as saunas and clubs that were among the so-called “hotspots” for health workers to make contact with gay men closed.
“The remaining locations are getting harder and harder to work at,” said a health worker interviewed by Human Rights Watch. “Fewer and fewer guys agree to get tested or take condoms each time.”
Laura Nevendorff, a researcher at the HIV Research Center at Atma Jaya Catholic University, said the police practice of using condoms as evidence against gay men has had a pernicious ripple effect, turning the crucial rubber safeguard into possible grounds for criminal prosecution, the AP reports.
Though deeply frowned upon, homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia. Police have used an anti-pornography law to prosecute gay men.
Because of conservative morality in the world’s most populous Muslim nation and the intense LGBT backlash, Indonesia’s HIV prevention strategy does not openly target gay or bisexual men, who along with injecting drug users, female sex workers and transgender people are the high-risk groups in the Indonesian epidemic, the AP reports.
Instead, overtaxed nongovernment organizations are trying to fill the gulf in a climate hostile to their work, the AP reports.
About nine percent of Thai gay and bisexual men have the HIV virus, compared with 26 percent in Indonesia, according to U.N. data. More than 90 percent of the people estimated to have HIV in Thailand have been tested and know their result, compared with only one in three in Indonesia, the AP article notes.