An organization called Medan Plus, founded by an independent pastor, the Rev. Eban Totonta Kaban, has worked to decrease the stigma that still accompanies a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS in Indonesia.
Since its founding in 2003, Medan Plus has reached out to more than 2,100 HIV-infected people in a country that is seeing an increase in cases of the deadly virus, according to UNAIDS, a United Nations agency. Indonesia’s HIV tally is projected to climb to about 500,000 in 2014 from 330,000 in 2009, without increased prevention, according to UNAIDS.
Natasya Hutabarat, one of the coordinators of Medan Plus, which is based in Medan, the capital city of North Sumatra, explained that combating stigma remains a big challenge, even as Medan Plus takes care of more than three quarters of HIV cases in the province.
Though Medan Plus started rehabilitation programs for HIV-infected people with production of artefacts and decorative items, Hutabarat conceded that “we had to stop it as there were no buyers” for products made by HIV-infected people.
Even Medan Plus field staff face taunts in public, said Hutabarat. But gradually it is declining. Some of the HIV-positive staff are now living with their own families — which had earlier banished them — while they work at Medan Plus.
An interview with a Medan Plus client, who asked that her name not be used, confirmed the work of the organization.
When the 31-year old woman was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 2008, the greatest shock for the single mother was the reaction of her own mother. “I was dying but my mother just sent me off the house when she came to know about it,” the woman said, clutching her veil.
“I was a sex worker and my mother had no problem with it. But she thought AIDS was a big calamity.” Prevented from meeting her teenaged daughter, she was lucky to be contacted by the “care and support” staff from Medan Plus, she said.
Apart from ensuring proper treatment for her advanced AIDS condition, the woman found shelter at Medan Plus, which provides accommodation for HIV patients.
As her health improved, the woman was trained in counseling and became a “care and support” staffer — visiting government hospitals and vulnerable women to identify HIV-infected and provide them with courage and support.