Indonesia apologises for printing error on signs that say HIV is passed on via swimming, sneezing

JAKARTA (AFP) - 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 on Wednesday (Nov 18).

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 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 are now being removed following an outcry.

"The ministry has to carry out a massive and systematic awareness campaign to undo this blunder," said Mr 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 replaced with the correct ones," he told AFP.

"They omitted the word 'not', it was an honest mistake."

Mr Subuh said the printing company failed to show the ministry the final version of the posters before issuing them as they were supposed to.

The company has also apologised for the error.

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which can lead to AIDS, is mainly transmitted via sexual intercourse or needle sharing.

Awareness about HIV in Indonesia remains poor despite the fact that more than 660,000 people are estimated to be living with the virus, according to the United Nations.

Ignorance about the virus has come from the highest echelons of government - in February, then Trade Minister Rachmat Gobel sparked outrage by claiming that second-hand clothes could spread HIV as he campaigned to stop the import of used garments. He has since been removed from his job.

Since 1981, about 78 million people have been infected by HIV worldwide, according to UN figures.