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Australian and Indonesia researchers join hands in tracking HIV epidemic

A new system for tracking the spread of HIV in Indonesia is being implemented, writes Jeff Li.

Australian researchers are working with their Indonesian colleges to develop a new computer model to track the HIV epidemic designed specifically for the requirements of Indonesia.

The model – called HIV in Indonesia Model (HIM) – was jointly developed by the University of New South Wales and the University of Indonesia to help Indonesia’s Ministry of Health track and tackle the spread of HIV in the country.

The new model takes into account the diverse situations in different regions in Indonesia using a mathematical model, making it very good at recording past epidemic for HIV in Indonesia and for forecasting future patterns.

“This is a mathematical model that describes the past epidemic of HIV in Indonesia so we can understand the present situation and how we got to where we are right now,” says lead researcher Associate Professor David Wilson, from the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research from UNSW.

Previously, an Asian Epidemic Model was used for tracking HIV spread in Asia. Wilson thinks this model is useful for the region as a whole but it does not meet the requirement for particular groups in Indonesia.

“It does not include particular population groups such as the waria, which is a transgender population,” says Wilson. “It is not included in the Asian Epidemic Model, but that is a particular group that is important to Indonesia, which needs to be captured.”

Pandu Riono from the Faculty of Public Health at the University of Indonesia adds that the waria is a key population for Indonesia in terms of HIV tracking, but may not be as important for another country.

“Most of the waria in Indonesia sell sex in the streets. Waria are less educated and stigmatised,” he says. “Currently, one third of waria in Jakarta have HIV. This group has the highest HIV prevalence among sexual transmission risk groups.”

Indonesia’s Ministry of Health of conducts surveillance on the situation of HIV every 2 to 3 years, but only among the high risk population. Riono says HIM provides an estimation for the real current problems and reveals a more comprehensive picture of the epidemic.

Riono also tells NR that the model can be used to predict the result of hypothetical situations. That is, the result of a given situation if it is acted on or if it is not acted on. “By inputting the surveillance data and other relevant data, we could see a comprehensive picture of the epidemic,” he says.
HIM gives estimations of the HIV epidemic not only on a national level, it can also estimate the situation of individual provinces. Riono says this allows for measures to be drawn up on a provincial level and not necessarily on a national level.

“This is very important for Indonesia as a country move to decentralise the program activities decision not only at national but also at provincial level,” Riono says.

Wilson says HIM was launched in March and that the tool has been warmly received. He plans to run some more training workshops around the country to train health workers to use the system.
“(HIM) is a useful tool that will assist programmes and policies to improve the health of people in Indonesia,” he added. HIM is the product of a team of researchers from UNSW in cooperation with the University of Indonesia after winning a grant from AusAID in 2007. With the grant, the team collaborates with partners in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Cambodia to produce epidemiological models for HIV transmissions in each country.

In 2010, almost 485,000 Indonesians lived with HIV, a number that was estimated to grow to 744,000 by 2010. n

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