In Indonesia, Pact and partners break down HIV stigma among health care workers

March 1, 2022
A training of trainers event supported by EpiC. Credit: EpiC

There was a time when Hages Budiman thought HIV would take everything she had. After her husband became sick, they learned he was HIV-positive. Hages was tested too, and she was also positive. Her husband died at the age of 30 and they believed their baby would also be HIV positive. Hages’s extended family judged her for her HIV status.

“My world suddenly fell down,” she recalls.

Yet in the years since then, she has turned her life around. On treatment, she is staying healthy. Her baby turned out to be HIV-negative, and she remarried and had two more HIV-negative children. She now has a full, meaningful life as founder of Kuldesak, an Indonesian organization that advocates for people living with HIV and AIDS.

“My husband had huge self-stigma,” Hages says. “I strongly advocate to all friends who have HIV in their bodies, ‘Let’s fight against stigma. Being HIV-positive is not the end. We can be productive.’”

Hages bravely shares her story with health care workers here to help break down rampant HIV stigma. Since 2018, Pact and FHI 360 have been training trainers to educate health care workers across 34 Indonesian provinces, dispelling myths that HIV is the result of personal irresponsibility and that people with HIV can’t live full, healthy lives with treatment. In Jakarta alone, the trainings have reached 43 primary health care facilities and more than 50 referral hospitals. This year the effort is expanding into greater Jakarta with training-of-trainer interventions for health care workers in West Java and Banten. The effort began as part of the LINKAGES project and is continuing under the EpiC project, both funded by USAID.

Medical and non-medical staff are included in the sessions, with three hours of training during which workers learn accurate information about HIV and AIDS, stigma and discrimination, gender and sexual orientation, identity and expression.

“When I first began working in HIV and AIDS programming in 2005, we often heard that it was a disease associated with death and personal fault,” says Pact Indonesia's Ria Ningsih. “This has real consequences for people living with HIV. It prevents them from getting tested and getting on treatment. And when health care workers believe the stigma, it can impact the quality of care they provide for those living with HIV. We are helping to turn this around by opening minds with correct information so that people with HIV can access stigma-free services.”

Hages shares her experience during a training of trainers event. Credit: EpiC

Hages says she is proud to be a part of the trainings, using her own life story to prove that women with HIV can live long lives and raise HIV-negative children.

Ienes Angela also shares her story as part of the trainings. She runs a national network that advocates for Indonesian gay men, men who have sex with men, and transgender people.

“As part of the community that is directly affected by stigma and discrimination, I am happy to have been part of this interventions since the beginning and up to practical implementation at the health facility level,” she says. “My wish is that my involvement will have a real contribution to reach zero stigma and discrimination in Indonesia.”