Indonesia in early stages of AIDS epidemic

Indonesia is the early stages of an AIDS epidemic, but the spread of the virus can be stopped with stepped-up prevention programs, the head of the United Nation's agency fighting the virus said. The virus is spreading fastest among injecting drug users, prostitutes and among heterosexuals in the eastern province of Papua, said UNAIDS chief Peter Piot.

"We know from experience that once it starts like that, it's only a matter of time before HIV spreads outside these fairly defined populations," Piot told reporters Monday at the start of a four-day trip to Indonesia. "Indonesia is in an early phase of an AIDS epidemic."

Estimates of the number of people living with HIV in Indonesia range from 150,000 to 250,000.

But Piot said that the "opportunities are enormous to really stop the epidemic, to nip it in the bud," urging an expanded AIDS prevention program among high risk groups.

Indonesia's government has sanctioned the opening of at least seven needle exchange clinics in recent months. It is also considering opening drug treatment centers in each of the 32 provinces and reforming drug laws to include treatment as an alternative to jail time for drug users in the world's most populous Muslim nation, reports the AP. I.L.

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