‘If I Could Do It, Anyone Can!’

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When I was freed from jail I went to my hometown and lived close to my parent’s house and supported them. My mother died two years ago after battling with cancer for 10 years. As long as she was alive I supported her. Even when I was in prison I would call her and tell her that I loved her and needed her. She died a happy woman as she saw me change my wayward ways. She said: Esther is leading a good life so I am happy and I do not want anything else.

Now I am marketing manager in a company and my employers are very pleased with my hard work. But I also work for the PLHIV community of my town. I campaign for condom use, but condom propagation is very difficult in the Muslim community as they think that condom use is un-Islamic. But we continue with our advocacy and I believe that one day they will accept it. Christians accept condom use. The church in Indonesia does not have specific programmes for PLHIV in the Christian community. I am advocating with them that it is very important for church officials to take a stand on this important health issue.

There was no stigma and discrimination in the prisons where I stayed as more than 70% of the prison staff had been trained to deal with PLHIV and TB. But in the general population there is still a lot of stigma against these diseases.

In some prisons (like the one where I was jailed) where the Global Fund programmes are running, there are very good facilities for HIV counseling and testing and giving ART, information about STIs (this is very useful for female prisoners as most of them have no knowledge about it), TB testing and treatment, methadone therapy and education about clean syringes available. For pregnant women there is PPTCT programme.

But most prisons in Indonesia do not have such good health facilities. There is high-risk sexual behavior, drug use, tattooing, limited women reproductive health care, and limited treatment of HIV and TB. Prisoners who are educated and have money are able to access TB treatment from outside the prison but those who are uneducated and poor have no access to TB treatment.

So I am motivated to work for better health facilities for prisoners in Indonesia and am advocating that all prisons get good facilities. When people leave the jail, they do not have any job to support them, so they are in and out of prison. Their rehabilitation is also necessary by providing them with jobs and skills.

Another important point is that drug users and drug dealers should be kept separated from each other in prisons. It was only inside the jail that I turned from a drug user to a drug supplier as I made friends with the drug boss there. It is important for our country to take a decision on this.

I am in contact with my friends in prison through phone, as the prison staff trusts me and allows me to speak to them. More than 50% of my friends there are still inside the jail. I keep on motivating them to leave drugs. I tell them it is your choiceif you want to get worse, it is okay but if you want a good future then please stop this and do something better. Positive thinking is important.

I am HIV positive; I have been a sex worker; a drug user for 14 years and a prisoner. Everything about me had been negative. So my family and friends had lost hope and given up on me. But now I am in a position to help others in need. It was the strict prison rules that actually changed the trajectory of my life. I have the motivation now to help make things better in other people’s lives and not make them worse. Drug use in youngsters in Indonesia has decreased now as compared to the past because of strict laws now.

It was my peer support only who introduced me to his friend in UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) in Jakarta. It was they who brought me here to this conference. If one has the determination then nothing is impossible. If I could do it, anyone can.”

Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service (CNS)
(The author is the Managing Editor of Citizen News Service – CNS. She is reporting from the XX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014) with support from the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Tuberculosis Programme. She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA and received her editing training in Singapore. She has earlier worked with State Planning Institute, UP and taught physics at India’s prestigious Loreto Convent.

She also co-authored and edited publications on gender justice, childhood TB, childhood pneumonia, Hepatitis C Virus and HIV, and MDR-TB. Email: [email protected], website: www.citizen-news.org)

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