'Kafe' are HIV hotspots: Official

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Anton Muhajir, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar | Sat, 01/03/2009 10:33 AM | Bali

The growing popularity of kafe (local bars) across Bali has made the island more vulnerable to the spread of HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), as the outlets also serve as a front for prostitution, a senior health official warns.

“The kafe have became not only places to relax but also places to solicit sexual transactions,” Bali AIDS Commission (KPS) spokesperson Mangku Karmaya said at a year-end press briefing earlier this week.

Over the past ten years, the kafe has grown to become a local phenomenon. Unlike the more prestigious cafes (selling tea, coffee, refreshments etc), bars and nightclubs in the island’s prime tourism areas, kafe are mainly located in suburban and rural areas.

The IB Mantra highway which runs along the southern edge of the island hosts a large number of kafe.

Generally a kafe is a spacious walled hall equipped with bamboo tables, plastic chairs and a loud sound system playing the latest hits, electronic music or an array of spirited dangdut songs.

These establishments sell beer, local liquor such as arak (local rice wine) and various cocktails based on arak. Kafe customers are mainly local youths, truck drivers and low-income earners.

Most kafe employ young girls who play multiple roles, acting as waitresses, drinking companions and, often, commercial sex workers.

“This is a form of disguised and unchecked prostitution. Needless to say, such outlets are also highly vulnerable to the spread of HIV,” Karmaya said.

Outreach workers from a local HIV/AIDS NGO had discovered an HIV positive waitress in one of the kafe, Karmaya said. The waitress admitted to having sexual intercourse with up to five men per day. None of her customers had ever used condoms during sex, she had said.

“Imagine how many people have been infected because of this blatant ignorance,” Karmaya said, urging the local administration to pay serious attention to this problem and to establish a supervisory and monitoring program targeting kafe.

“The administration must, on a regular basis, carry out health examinations and laboratory testing of blood samples taken from all kafe workers,” he said.

Karmaya also reminded kafe owners of the possible health risks and social consequences of their outlets.

“The owners should not only think about financial profits. They should also be aware of the adverse impacts and ways to minimize those impacts,” he said.

“For a start, owners should make condoms available at their establishments to decrease the number of HIV infections.”

A government-sanctioned supervision program would put local administrations and politicians under a lot of heat as they could be accused of condoning or legalizing prostitution by the conservative parts of society, Karmaya said.

“HIV/AIDS is everybody’s problem. If we leave things as they are, the island could face an HIV/AIDS epidemic of catastrophic proportions.”


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