Wednesday, November 22, 2017
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Timor-Leste continues to face big challenges in reducing HIV infection rates as many communities in rural areas still lack understanding about the risks and how the virus is transmitted.

Timor-Leste continues to face big challenges in reducing HIV infection rates as many communities in rural areas still lack understanding about the risks and how the virus is transmitted.

In 2013, the government established the National Commission for Combating HIV/AIDS as a state institution to help coordinate a multi-sector response to HIV issues and raise awareness among communities.

However, Program Manager of the Hope organization Inacio Maria said one of the issues was that the government’s national awareness campaign was only reaching municipality centers and not rural areas.

“In every place that we visit, we ask about HIV and they (communities) have no idea, they just know HIV is a bad disease, this means the information is just in the public places and not in rural areas,” he said at a ceremony to mark World AIDS Day in Dili.

He also expressed concern about some of the misinformation being spread publicly, which meant people were often afraid to get tested at a health facility.

As a result, he said people considered HIV a bad disease that was a punishment from God or for going against their traditional belief system.

That’s why he said it was important to prevent the spread of misinformation because HIV was not a bad disease, it is a virus that attacks the human immune system and therefore makes it easier for people to get sick.

He called for a nationwide awareness campaign involving experts who have an in-depth knowledge of the issue and could provide a detailed explanation to communities about how HIV is transmitted and the risks of contracting the virus.

While he agreed with the government’s policy to stop the public distribution of condoms, he urged young people in particular to practice safe sex when having sexual relations with someone other than a long-term partner.

“We cannot distribute condoms, but if the people come and ask for a condom, then we give it to them because no-one can ban other people from having sexual relationships and with anyone else,” he said.

According to national data, there were more than 600 cases of HIV registered from 2003 to July 2016. Of these, 75 people had died, while others were receiving antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, which help to suppress the virus and prevent transmission.

Hope is a local organization that is working to advocate for the rights of people with HIV and also provides treatment support.

Meanwhile, UN Resident Coordinator in Timor-Leste Knut Ostby said that efforts to eliminate the HIV epidemic around the world had made significant progress due to advances in treatment, which has helped to reduce the number of deaths caused by the virus.

While the prevalence of HIV is low in Timor-Leste, he said the number of new cases continues to increase annually.

“There is no cure for HIV infection, but we can work together on virus prevention and treatment areas,” he said.

He said around the world, many people with HIV still did not know that they had been infected and that in some cases there was also a reluctance to seek ARV treatment due to the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV.

He said that data showed that in 2015 there were more than 36 million people living with HIV around the world and that there had been 2 million new infection cases and more than 1 million deaths from AIDS-related illnesses.

In response to the concerns, the Minister of State for Coordinating Social Affairs and Minister of Education, Antonio da Conceição, said combating HIV transmission in the country was everyone’s responsibility, not only the government’s.

“The role of religion is very important to strengthen our spirit to change our public attitudes and behaviors,” he said.

He added HIV virus was big concern for Timor-Leste because the society was still fragile in terms of economic development and knowledge.

He said there are various risk factors, including social economy, attitude and people’s public behavior.

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