The highly influential and respected Grand Council of Customary Villages (MUDP) plans to launch continuous campaigns to eliminate discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS across Bali.
The campaigns, slated to start in July, will first target 450 out of the total 1,500 customary villages on the island.
MUDP is an umbrella organization for nearly 1,500 customary villages across the island. Bali has both administrative and customary villages.
An administrative village is a formal village. Meanwhile a customary village is a unit for the purposes of adat, or customary law, and a community whose unity is based on customs and traditions.
A customary village is linked to a village temple and has control of its region and properties and has the right to administer its own internal affairs
Ketut Sumarta, MUDP secretary, told Bali Daily over the weekend that the campaigns were the council’s way of totally eliminating any form of discrimination against those people and to educate people on the issue.
The stigma and discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS remain a significant issue among people in Bali, especially those living in rural areas.
“Even at the provincial and national levels, such forms of discrimination are still very profound,” added Sumarta, as they occurred alongside other forms of discrimination based on religion, ethnicity and other topics.
The stigma not only makes it more difficult for people trying to come to terms with HIV and managing their illness on a personal level, but it also interferes with attempts to fight the epidemic as a whole.
Discrimination manifested in many forms. At the rural level, people did not have adequate understanding of HIV/AIDS, the transmission of the virus, appropriate medication and health treatment, he said.
“The most important point related to Balinese customs is how to treat the body of a deceased person who had HIV/AIDS,” said Sumarta, adding that this was a very sensitive issue.
For years, Sumarta admitted, the council had been facing many problems related to this form of discrimination.
In some cases, people from the customary village have refused to be involved in the burial ceremony of people who are suspected to have died from HIV/AIDS.
“Many families have rejected conducting a postmortem on relatives who have died of HIV/AIDS,” he stated.
Usually, hospitals, NGOs dealing with HIV/AIDS and community organizations took over the family’s and the village’s customary duties in taking care of the bodies.
In Bali, families and the entire village community are usually involved in any ceremony to honor a deceased person. Taking care of the body, preparing it for cremation, conducting ceremonies prior to the funeral and the actual funeral are all communal works.
In the case of people who have died of HIV/AIDS, many families and villagers in Bali prefer to keep their distance fearing that they could contract the disease when they hold the ceremony for the dead.
The MUDP members are strongly committed to eradicating any form of stigma and discrimination. “The decision [made last November during the Pesamuan Agung meeting] was a real breakthrough in changing people’s mindset against people with HIV/AIDS,” Sumarta said.
The commitment was followed up with the issuance of MUDP guidelines for people in Bali on how to treat and to handle the body of person who died of HIV/AIDS, which is based on medical standard operational procedures.
The guideline states that people must not handle the corpse until at least six hours after the time of death.
“This information is really important, as in customary villages we usually handle the corpse immediately once a person was pronounced dead,” Sumarta said.
The Bali AIDS Commission (KPAD) spokesperson, Mangku Karmaya, expressed his appreciation to the MUDP. “Discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS is one of the most important things to eliminate.”
Karmaya hoped that the MUDP campaign program could be effectively enforced in villages to eliminate the ongoing discrimination. As of January this year, since the first case found in 1987, the cumulative number of people living with HIV/AIDS on the island had reached 7,291. Up to 76 percent of those people contracted the disease through heterosexual relationships, while those in homosexual relationships and injecting drug users made up 4 percent and 11 percent, respectively, of the total.
NI KOMANG ERVIANI