Report from the Field: HIV/AIDS in West Papua, July-Sept 2013

SSGM Working Paper

Author/s (editor/s):

Jenny Munro

Publication year:


Publication type:

Working paper


I recently spent about three months in West Papua, mainly in the central highlands town of Wamena, Papua province. Government statistics suggest an HIV prevalence in Papua province of 2.4 % of the adult population, but people working on HIV prevention and treatment based mainly in indigenous-operated non-governmental organizations (NGOs) state that 1 in 5 of the young indigenous men and women they bring to a clinic for testing turn out to be HIV positive. HIV in Papua follows ethnic lines, with 68% of infections occurring in indigenous Papuans. As of September 2013 there were about 3600 HIV/AIDS cases in Jayawijaya, the regency (kabupaten) in which Wamena is located, mainly occurring among indigenous people, who may number in total about 80,000. Because Wamena offers HIV testing and treatment, a result of targeted international donor and government efforts to create a flagship site in a remote part of West Papua, it is seen as a comparative success, a case of technological expansion and service delivery under trying geographic, cultural and political conditions. In this report I describe current conditions that test this view, as well as point to the obvious: Wamena can only seem good in comparison with the absolute lack of HIV services beyond the city limits and in neighbouring rural and remote districts.


Dr Jenny Munro is a cultural anthropologist who works in West Papua (Tanah Papua) and other regions of eastern Indonesia. She joined the SSGM as a Research Fellow in 2013. Her doctoral research followed a group of indigenous university students from the central highlands of West Papua to North Sulawesi and back home again to examine the social, cultural and political impacts of schooling. Since completing her PhD in 2010, Jenny has conducted five collaborative ethnographic research projects in the domains of HIV/AIDS, sexuality, education and alcohol-related violence. Her research reflects a broader interest in understanding emerging and enduring inequalities that are reshaping daily life in West Papua. These concerns are of high importance locally and speak to structural and experiential aspects of development.

As a result of this research Jenny has published articles on racial stigma and premarital pregnancy experiences (Journal of Youth Studies), the politics of HIV research and policy-formation (The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology), and indigenous experiences of the value of education in highlands West Papua (Indonesia). Co-authored publications on gender, sexuality and development appear in Culture, Health and Sexuality (2010, 2007) and Development in Practice (2013).

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