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Indonesian HIV/AIDS patients face microchip tagging

UN expresses 'grave concerns'

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A controversial bill requiring some HIV/AIDS patients to be implanted with microchips has gained support from lawmakers in Indonesia’s remote province of Papua.

Associated Press reports that legislator John Manangsang welcomed the plan to insert small computer chips beneath the skin of what he described as “sexually aggressive” patients, despite fierce opposition from health workers and rights activists.

Manangsang claimed authorities would be better placed to identify, follow and, in due course, punish those who deliberately infect others with the disease. If charged, offenders could face six months in jail or a $5,000 fine.

Details of the proposed legislation are still being worked on, but it has already received full backing from the provincial parliament. Manangsang said, if the plan gets a majority vote as expected, it could be enacted under Papuan law as early as next month.

Indonesia has one of Asia’s fastest growing HIV rates, with an estimated 270,000 people living with HIV/AIDS out of a population of 235 million at the end of 2007. The explosion has been brought on mainly by prostitution and intravenous drug use, according to the United Nations-backed research group, UNAIDS.

Papua, which has a population of around two million, has been hardest hit by the disease, reports AP. It has a case rate of almost 61 per 100,000 people in the region, or 15 times the national average.

"The health situation is extraordinary, so we have to take extraordinary action," said Weynand Watari, another Papuan lawmaker. He said radio frequency identification tags like those used to track everything from cattle to wheelie bins could be used if the controversial proposals get the go-ahead.

Under the plans a committee would be created to decide who should be fitted with chips and to track patients’ behaviour.

However, it’s not clear at this stage who would be on the list, nor how legislators would carry out their work. The Papua government has also failed to provide a clear definition of who would be labelled as being “sexually aggressive”, or how many would be targeted under the proposal if it is enacted.

UNAIDS country coordinator Nancy Fee, who hasn’t seen a copy of the government’s plans, expressed “grave concerns” about human rights and health issues if such a bill was passed in the Indonesian province, reports the AP. She said she was unaware of any law elsewhere that involved implanting microchips into HIV/AIDS patients.

"No one should be subject to unlawful or unnecessary interference of privacy," Fee said. She went on to say that such policies don’t work, and in fact prevent people from seeking out medical help. ®

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