Monday, December 01, 2008

World AIDS Day: a profile of an Indonesian survivor

On this World AIDS Day, the Jakarta Post has a great profile of an AIDS survivor who has to battle the disease while living in poverty. Reporter Anton Muhajir introduces us.

Life for Ketut Sari (not her real name) is more than complicated. The 25-year-old has to struggle not only with poverty but also with the deadly HIV inside her body.

Living in one of the island's poorest and most isolated hamlets does nothing to help her situation.

Sari lives in a hamlet in Datah village in Abang district, Karangasem, about 150 kilometers east of Denpasar. It takes two and a half hours to drive to her place from the capital. The last leg of the trip involves navigating a dirt road through rough terrain.

Once every two weeks Sari sets out on the rough trip for her regular appointment with a medical team in Denpasar. The team gives Sari treatment against the HIV and monitors her health.

Sari's husband passed away six months ago after a bout of HIV/AIDS-related diseases. Only after his death did Sari learn she too was infected.

The realization came gradually. Initially, she suffered from various opportunistic diseases closely associated with HIV/AIDS. Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) at Denpasar's Wangaya hospital confirmed that she had the virus. By then, the opportunistic diseases had already taken a major toll on her health.

"My husband was probably the person who infected me," she said, pointing out that she had never participated in high-risk behaviors, such as having more than one sexual partner.

She also admitted her husband was an intravenous drug user (IDU) who often shared his needles with fellow users.


Sari now spends her days weaving tiny pandan mats that Balinese Hindus place on shrines. She can make up to 10 mats per day and sells 50 mats for Rp 10,000 (less than US$1). The money goes toward paying for the family's basic daily needs.

"The money is not enough to buy meals let alone to buy medicine for my treatment," she said.

Sari has not taken an ARV (anti-retroviral) cocktail yet because she is still in relatively good health. However, she must undergo specific therapy to prevent her physical health from deteriorating as well as to ward off any opportunistic diseases.

Her financial condition and the remoteness of her hamlet make it difficult for her to access proper health services, she said.

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