The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which can lead to AIDS, is mainly transmitted through sexual intercourse or needle sharing. Awareness about HIV in Indonesia remains poor despite the fact that more than 660,000 people are estimated to be living with HIV. Indonesia's health ministry had put up hundreds of posters on trains claiming that HIV can be transmitted through mosquito bites, swimming and sneezing. However, these posters have now been removed following an outcry. The ministry has apologized for the printing error that led to these posters being put up.
Social media was flooded with angry comments after the ministry's attempt to launch a campaign to debunk myths about HIV backfired badly in a country where people with the virus are much stigmatized. The controversy came as the virus was hitting the headlines globally after US actor Charlie Sheen revealed he was HIV-positive - and had paid millions of dollars in hush money to people who knew about his infection to keep them quiet.
The Indonesian plan involved putting up posters on commuter trains in the capital Jakarta stating that HIV cannot be transmitted through mosquito bites, swimming and sneezing, as well as human saliva and sweat. But the printing company managed to miss out the word 'not' from the posters and then failed to get final approval from officials, meaning the banners reinforced the very beliefs they were meant to challenge.
Prominent HIV activist Fajar Jasmin tweeted that the botched campaign was a 'stupid, fatal mistake'.
Senior health ministry official Muhammad Subuh admitted the mistake was due to a 'printing error'. He said, "We have made a public apology and now the banners are being removed and will be replaced with the correct ones. They omitted the word 'not', it was an honest mistake. The printing company failed to show the ministry the final version of the posters before issuing them as they were supposed to."
The company has also apologized for the error.
However Subuh insisted the controversy was a 'blessing in disguise' as many people recognized immediately it was a mistake, showing progress had made in spreading awareness about the true causes of transmission.
Activists dismissed his claim, with Wardhana saying that HIV campaigners would now have to be sent to train stations to inform people of the error.