, JAKARTA, Indonesia, Nov 18 – Indonesia’s health ministry has apologised after a printing error led to posters being put up claiming that HIV can be transmitted through mosquito bites, swimming and sneezing, an official said Wednesday.
Social media was flooded with angry comments after the ministry’s attempt to launch a campaign to debunk myths about HIV backfired badly in a country where people with the virus are much stigmatised.
The controversy came as the virus was hitting the headlines globally after US actor Charlie Sheen revealed he was HIV-positive – and had paid millions of dollars in hush money to people who knew about his infection to keep them quiet.
The Indonesian plan involved putting up posters on commuter trains in the capital Jakarta stating that HIV cannot be transmitted through mosquito bites, swimming and sneezing, as well as human saliva and sweat.
But the printing company managed to miss out the word “not” from the posters and then failed to get final approval from officials, meaning the banners reinforced the very beliefs they were meant to challenge.
Hundreds of posters were plastered on trains at the weekend, but have now been removed following an outcry.
“The ministry has to carry out a massive and systematic awareness campaign to undo this blunder,” said Aditya Wardhana, an activist from Indonesia AIDS Coalition.
Prominent HIV activist Fajar Jasmin tweeted that the botched campaign was a “stupid, fatal mistake”.
Senior health ministry official Muhammad Subuh admitted the mistake was due to a “printing error”.
“We have made a public apology and now the banners are being removed and will be replaced with the correct ones,” he told AFP.
“They omitted the word ‘not’, it was an honest mistake.”