Against All Odds: HIV/AIDS Epidemic Among Indigenous Papuans

Against All Odds: HIV/AIDS Epidemic Among Indigenous Papuans Indonesia, Photography, Videos, West Papua
July 15, 2011

by Andri Tambunan

Papua is the largest province in Indonesia and it’s home to approximately 1% of Indonesia’s population. However, approximately 40% of all HIV/AIDS cases in Indonesia are located in Papua. Currently, Papua has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the country, 15 times higher than the national average and the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence outside of Africa. Out of the 2.5 million people in Papua, over half are Indigenous Papuans of Melanesian descent and they account for almost 75% of HIV/AIDS cases, doubling the rate of non-ethnic Papuan descent. The plight of indigenous Papuans is under documented with very few articles and images depicting the issue accurately and thoroughly. Current intervention efforts are insufficient and unsuccessful in helping prevent the spread of HIV among indigenous Papuans and providing relief and care to those already infected.

The rampant spread of HIV/AIDS epidemic among indigenous Papuans has been perpetuated and sustained by economic inequalities. Indigenous Papuans are also deprived of the essential awareness to HIV/AIDS and the knowledge on how to prevent infection. Those who are suspected of having HIV virus have restricted access to get immediate testing and indigenous Papuans already living with HIV/AIDS or ODHA are lacking sufficient care and counseling. Lastly, deep-rooted stigmas against ODHA sustain a lower quality life without respect or dignity that disenfranchised their personal well-being.

Project Aim:
This topic is under reported with only a few of in-depth articles that examine the epidemic of HIV/AIDS within the indigenous Papuan population and fewer images available that depict the issue accurately and thoroughly. I plan to carry out a comprehensive examination of the epidemic of HIV/AIDS on indigenous Papuans at a much deeper level and identify contributing factors that are responsible for the pandemic level of HIV/AIDS among indigenous Papuans population.

My main focuses are investigating the roles of economic disparity, lack of in HIV/AIDS education and awareness, insufficient service and support, discrimination in healthcare, and stigma that have contributed to the pandemic incidence of HIV/AIDS within indigenous Papuans population.

I aim to be a catalyst that raises an awareness of numerous flaws within the status quo and stresses a call for immediate actions to remedy the dire situation. Ultimately, by identifying these problems and shortcomings I want to promote the development of more efficient methods of education, service, and support that specifically target indigenous Papuans.

Photo Essay & Multimedia:
The finished essay will be submitted to traditional news outlets. Also, in order to reach an audience outside the usual realm of still photographs, I will create a multimedia piece consisting of a mixture of images, audio interviews, and video.

I will create a mini-book that will be sent to select NGOs, influential policy makers, and health organizations both nationally and internationally to raise awareness and educate as well as provide accurate and updated references and convince them to take immediate actions to remedy the situation in Papua.

Your participation + My Efforts = Our Project
I welcome and encourage everyone to take part in this project. Each supporter will have access to my blog specifically to this project. I will share as much I can in this journey: preparation, obstacles, failures, successes, thoughts and emotions, etc. Please feel free to ask questions or drop me a message and feedback. Also, everyone will have the opportunity to help me select photos for the final edit.

How Funds Will Be Used:
Recently, I received a paid internship with the Sacramento Bee newspaper and every penny I earned is being allocated to continue this project. However, it’s not sufficient and I sincerely need your support and involvement to continue this project. Your support will help offset costs of airfare, local transport, fixer, food & lodging, multimedia, and printing.

Why Me:
Papua is classified as a restricted area by the Indonesian government and it’s almost impossible for foreign journalists to gain access and conduct independent research. With my Indonesian background, fluency of the main language, and experience traveling in this region, I am the right person for this task.

From my initial visit in 2009 I established a relationship with several local non-governmental organizations in major cities in Papua such as Jayapura, Wamena, and Timika that are active in providing support and care to indigenous Papuans. I also made several connections with key representatives from international organizations that are active in the efforts of stabilizing the infection rate of HIV/AIDS in Papua such as Family Health International and International Labour Organization. Also, I met key figures in the community such as church leaders, doctors and social workers. Most importantly, I gained the trust of many indigenous Papuan people living with HIV/AIDS. They accepted into their lives as a friend and trusted me to document their struggles. I am accountable to tell their stories and I am prepared and qualified to accept this responsibility.

The most recent census shows the number of people with HIV/AIDS in Papua has jumped by more than 30 percent. If no immediate actions are taken to find solutions, the current situation will only get worse. Awareness, prevention, and treatment and care are the cornerstones of effective responses to HIV/AIDS. These essentials must be guaranteed to indigenous Papuans to contain the spread of HIV/AIDS and help ensure a better chance of survival, instill a sense of hope and provide a better quality of life to indigenous Papuans living with HIV/AIDS, and assist on the longevity of indigenous Papuans population and culture. Together, with your direct support and involvement, we could spark these developments.

Andri Tambunan is a freelance photojournalist and documentary photographer. In 2010 he was selected to the Eddie Adams Workshop and received Nikon Emerging Professional Scholarship to attend Missouri Photo Workshop. Recently he received an internship with the Sacramento Bee newspaper. His work has been featured in NPPA,, FHM, and Stern.


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