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Indonesia's gay community hails first clinic

in INDONESIA, 03/11/2011

Indonesia's gay and transgender community on Thursday hailed the opening of its first dedicated health clinic, as officials battle a soaring HIV rate in the Muslim majority nation.

The clinic on the Indonesian island of Bali, the first of its kind in the country, has received nearly 100 patients since it swung open its doors in early October, clinic administrator Dewa Nyoman Wirawan told AFP.

"They tend to think twice before seeking treatment at public health centres as they often have an unpleasant experience -- especially the transgenders due to their physical appearance," he said.

"People tend to judge (the community's) sexual orientation as deviant. Gays need such exclusive health clinics so that they will no longer hesitate to undergo routine screenings for sexually transmitted diseases or an HIV test."

The privately-owned Bali Medika Clinic offers various services including counselling on safe sex practices, as well as free condoms and antiretroviral drugs for HIV patients.

"We usually get an unfriendly welcome at public health clinics. That's what makes us reluctant to go to hospitals when we get ill," said Christian Supriyadinata, head of Gaya Dewata, an organisation that represents Bali's gay and transgender community.

"This clinic will have a very positive impact for us. If we receive quick treatment it will automatically keep (sexually transmitted) diseases from spreading," he added.

The number of known HIV/AIDS cases in Bali, a tourist hotspot, jumped to 3,778 in 2010, up 19 percent over the previous year, according to a report by the National AIDS Commission.

A quarter of the island's prostitutes are reported to be HIV-positive, officials say.

Homosexuality is legal in the country of 240 million people, but it remains a taboo among many in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Wirawan said the clinic was crucial for an often stigmatised community.

"Whenever they have an HIV test they have no choice but to reveal their sexual orientation and it is not easy for them elsewhere due to the social stigma," he said.

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