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Removing the Social Stigma of HIV/AIDS in Bali

Bali's Religious Leaders Join Forces to Halt Discrimination Against Those Suffering and Dying from HIV/AIDS.

(9/5/2009) Kompas.com reports that many Balinese, particularly those from rural areas, practice discrimination against those infected with HIV/AIDS, including, in some instance, refusing to handle, bury or cremate the remains of those who die from HIV/AIDS. A lack of information on how people become infected with HIV/AIDS is the root cause of why village people will often have nothing to do with HIV/AIDS victims, either living or dead.

To address this situation, religious leaders in Bali have agreed to work together to educate the public and end discrimination against HIV/AIDS sufferers.

The Vice-Chairman of the Parisadha Hindu Dharma Indonesia (PHDI), the leading Bali Hindu religious organization, Raka Santeri, told the press: "We are concerned with the narrow attitude of people towards those suffering from HIV/AIDS. The bodies of several sufferers who died in hospital have not been received back for burial by either their families or neighbors. This is highly discriminative and cruel."

The Hindu leader went on to explain that such refusals are not in keeping with religious law requiring that the dead and their remains be honored. Because of this, he is calling on all Hindu leaders to correctly educate their fellow Hindus about HIV/AIDS.

Similar sentiments were also expressed by the Bali representative of the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI), Richard Muchlis. Agreeing that discrimination towards those suffering or who have died from HIV/AIDS is not acceptable, Muchlis said: "It is therefore important that we move together to persuade the public about how HIV/AIDS is spread. What's more, someone who has died of this disease cannot infect the living."

Between January and July of 2009, the bodies of six people who died of HIV/AIDS at Denpasar's Sanglah General Hospital were refused by their families and home villages.

Roy Noldy, an HIV/AIDS activist, regretted the refusal of local citizens to dispose of the dead. He was also shocked to learn that family members of the dead also refused to handle and pray for the deceased.

In February, an HIV/AIDS victim's body was cremated at the public crematorium in Mumbul at a cost of Rp. 12 million (US$1,200) because the deceased's family were not prepared to pray and make offerings on behalf of their family member. "Disturbed by these developments were hope religious leaders in Bali will help spread correct information," Noldy said.

The number of HIV suffers in Bali between 1987 until May 2009 totaled 2,829 people, with most averaging between the age of 20 and 39 years. During the entire year of 2008, 255 people died from HIV/AIDS in Bali.