The provinces of Papua and West Papua, formerly known as Irian Jaya, are located in easternmost Indonesia. They are home to only one percent of Indonesia’s 230 million people; however, almost 40 percent of all HIV/AIDS cases in the country are located there. In the two provinces’ (which I call “Papua,” as is the norm in the region), HIV/AIDS infection rates are the highest in the country, 15 times higher than the national average. The people of Papua are living and dying in the midst of the fastest growing epidemic in Asia.
Each year in Papua the number of recorded cases of HIV increases by almost 50 percent. Current estimates suggest at least 3 percent of the adults in the province are HIV-positive. In an epidemic where the virus is transmitted mostly through heterosexual relationships, men and women, children, husbands and wives, and in some cases entire communities are under attack.
Although they say that HIV/AIDS does not discriminate, in Papua the epidemic follows along the fault lines of race: about three-quarters of those infected are indigenous Papuans. Due to economic disparity and a lack of political power, indigenous Papuans are more susceptible to poverty, malnutrition, unemployment, and illiteracy than the Indonesian migrants who have relocated to the province. Already at a disadvantage, indigenous Papuans lack access to the information and education necessary to make informed decisions to reduce vulnerability to HIV. They also have limited access to preventive services, adequate health support, and treatment. Consequently, no other ethnic group in Papua bears as high a risk of transmission, stigmatization, marginalized well-being, and mortality related to HIV/AIDS as do indigenous Papuans.
Against All Odds uses images and text to explore some of the reasons why indigenous Papuans are contracting HIV, including limited economic opportunities, lack of HIV/AIDS education and awareness, insufficient access to health services, inadequate support, discrimination, and stigma. One of the project's goals is to put face to this regional crisis by showing how they try and come to terms with their situation. Ultimately, it aims to raise awareness about Papua and improve access to care for indigenous Papuans facing or living with HIV/AIDS.
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