19 December 2009

Catholic propaganda obscures the true toll of HIV in East Timor

ETLJB Editorial 19 December 2009 The following article from Catholic Relief Services gives the impression that all is well for people with HIV-AIDS in East Timor.

But that is far from the truth.

As ETLJB has noted before*, there are fundamental defects in the HIV-AIDS transmission reduction policy in East Timor. It is fragmented and discriminatory.

The principle international NGO (The Red Cross) that runs the main HIV-AIDS transmission reduction program excludes homosexuals from its program.

The policy makers are ignorant of the necessary fine distinctions between men who have sex with men, homosexuals and bisexuals - none of which gets a mention in the policy.

There are no laws guaranteeing confidentiality of test results or HIV-status.

There are no laws prohibiting discrimination or vilification against high risk groups such as homosexuals. In fact, there is fierce and hatred-inciting public criticism of homosexuals in East Timor

There are no condomn distribution programs.

The abstinence and faithulness doctrines put about by the Catholic Church as strategies for combating this disease are antihuman and immoral - bereft of scientific justification - and bound to contribute to the continuing expansion of HIV into the Timorese community.

The theocracy in East Timor wields far too much influence over the determination of policy and laws which ought to be primarily informed by rational intellectual reason and experience and not be perverted from their social purposes by the invocation of the supernatural - by men who would rather witness the destruction of generations than retract their erroneous ideologies.

HIV is a virus. Only condoms, anti-viral drugs and the right policies and laws can save human lives that it continues to threaten across the globe.

* HIV-AIDS and Homophobia in Timor-Leste

Timor Leste Red Cross excludes homosexuals from HIV-AIDS Reduction Program

Four patients infected by HIV/AIDS in Baukau Radio Televisaun Timor Leste 3 December 2009 The man in charge of HIV/AIDS in Baukau hospital, Marcelino da Cruz said four patients in that hospital were infected by HIV/AIDS.

Opposition calls for Government to pay attention to HIV/AIDS Radio Televisaun Timor Leste 2 December 2009 Fretilin MP Francisco Branco has called for the Parliamentary Majority Alliance (AMP) Government to pay attention to the Timorese people who have been positively infected by HIV/AIDS.

East Timor: Leading by Example in the Fight Against HIV

“I don’t want to set a bad example for the people in my community and to know your [HIV] status is only good! Testing is the only way to know for sure,” says Antonio Guterres, a district administrator in the small Asian country of East Timor (Timor Leste). On World AIDS Day, Guterres put his words into action by becoming his country’s highest-ranking official to take an HIV test publicly.

For two years, Catholic Relief Services in East Timor has been working with local partners, including Catholic sisters, to prevent HIV transmission or to care for those who have the virus. In the country’s capital, Dili, CRS helped build a rest house called Uma Nazarete (“House of Nazareth”) that is run by the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Spirit. The home provides shelter, food and other assistance for HIV-positive people who travel to the capital from outlying districts for their monthly check ups and anti-retroviral treatment.
East Timor

District Administrator Antonio Guterres stands with CRS staffer Regina Amaral after taking a public HIV test during World AIDS Day celebrations in Baucau, East Timor. Photo by CRS staff

With money from the Global Fund, CRS began the Smart & Safe HIV prevention project, which targets at-risk men and strives to make education and counseling “male-friendly.” The program emphasizes partner reduction, with tailored ‘Be Faithful’ messages for older and married men, and a strong focus on abstinence for young single men.

“Our approach has really been successful,” says Michael Johansson, CRS Technical Advisor for HIV/AIDS in East Timor. “It’s given many beneficiaries the strength to make important, life-changing decisions and lead healthier lives.”

However, prevention messages weren’t always reaching people, especially those who didn’t know that they were at risk. For example, many wives and partners of at-risk men don’t always understand that they too might contract HIV; many are unaware of their partner’s unsafe behaviors.

So for World AIDS Day, CRS mobilized the Timorese community to learn more about the disease and how to prevent it. Government officials took an HIV awareness motorcade through the country’s second-largest city, Baucau, and attended a special Catholic Mass. The officials also took part in an HIV quiz show held by the city’s diocese.

The day’s final event took place at a local hospital, where a number of participants—including government officials and journalists—were publicly tested for HIV.

“We wanted to fight the stigma some people saw in going to testing clinics,” says Johansson. “The general public made assumptions about who was going to be tested. We wanted to change that, which is why the turnout on World AIDS Day was so good.”

Guterres says he’s very glad he got tested, and encourages his constituents to follow his example. “I am thankful that I tested negative and that encourages me to take care of myself and my family,” he says. “But I also want to make sure that we take care of each other in this community. Know your status because that’s how we can care for each other.” Source: http://crs-blog.org/east-timor-leading-by-example-in-the-fight-against-hiv/
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See also: East Timor HIV Spills Over To Australia (AAP/19/06/01)
DARWIN -- The HIV virus had taken hold in East Timor and spread into Australia, a Dili-based doctor said today.

As many as 15 foreign workers, mostly Africans, evacuated from East Timor for treatment at the Royal Darwin Hospital, have tested positive to HIV, Dr Dan Murphy said.

A Darwin woman contracted the virus that leads to AIDS from having sex with an East Timor -based expatriate.

"There was a case of transmission from an expatriate in East Timor to a woman in Darwin," the American volunteer general practitioner said. Territory Health Service confirmed one of the five cases of HIV reported among Darwin residents since the United Nations moved into East Timor in 1999 was contracted through heterosexual contract with a foreigner based there. That woman then infected another local.

Darwin has become a popular recreation destination for East Timor workers. Darwin sex workers report African clients refusing to use condoms. Dr Murphy said the HIV-positive expatriates detected in Darwin had probably been infected before they reached East Timor.

But these same UN and non-government organisation workers were also patronising a clandestine sex industry flourishing in East Timor.

"It's (HIV) a problem but no-one knows how extensive because we don't do testing," Dr Murphy said.

While the extent of HIV remained invisible, Dr Murphy said his Bairo Pite Clinic frequently treated men suffering the more obvious sexually transmitted diseases from prostitution such as gonorrhoea.

Unchecked, Dr Murphy feared a major blow out in HIV among the conservative Catholic population resistant to condom use and sexual discussion. AIDS would prove devastating with the high rate of tuberculosis among the East Timorese, he said.

"TB will become more active and it'll attack more strongly because with AIDS, you don't have any resistance," Dr Murphy said.
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