By Bunmi Adigun @Bunmi_Adigun

THE indigenous population of Papua are battling against an HIV epidemic that has ravaged the small Indonesian province

Scroll down for the full story

The indigenous people of Papua are currently battling with a HIV epidemic

Located on the easternmost edge of Indonesia, the island is known for having large deposits of gold and is home to the world’s largest gold mine.

Grasberg Mine has provided jobs for thousands of people in the region, which in turn has developed the once small village of Timika into a bustling town of more than 130,000 people.

The sex industry in the province has increased the number of sexually transmitted diseases

The steady growth of the mine and nearby town of Timika, also brought with it an influx of migrant workers from neighbouring Indonesian islands which has inadvertently created a market for sex workers.

Freelance journalist and photographer, Susan Schulman, documented the damaging effects the sex industry has had on the indigenous families in Papua and what is being done to combat against it.

Many of the sex workers in Papua come from neighbouring islands in Indonesia

Susan said: “HIV is a huge problem in Papua and it disproportionately affects indigenous people (Papuans). There are semi-legitimate brothels, meaning that it’s easier to access them.”

Waa Waa hospital in the nearby town of Banti is currently on the front line in the fight against the HIV epidemic and has become the port-of-call for indigenous men and women seeking help for the deadly disease.

HIV has become a huge problem in Papua as the locals are misinformed about the seriousness of the disease

Dr. Milke is part of a dedicated team of medical staff who are helping to diagnose and treat indigenous people as well as as trying to reach Papuans living in remote areas of the province.

Speaking to Susan, Dr. Milke said: “We worry about the other villages, in those villages they rely on supernatural healers and beliefs.

“We only know what happens there if someone comes here sick and they tell us their wife or husband has died and so have many others.”

Many of the sex workers moved to Timika due to the Grasberg mine, the world's biggest gold mine

During her time in the province, Susan spoke with Martina Wanago, a young woman who had recently found out that she had contracted the disease and was unaware of why she was sick.

Martina said: “All I could do was just wait for God to call me.”

The Papuan community are most at threat of contracting the deadly virus due to ignorance of the disease and a lack of infrastructure on the island.

In Papua Province, reported AIDS cases [320 per 100,000 people] are almost 20 times the national average, researchers found. And the study indicated that 88 percent of HIV-positive people in Papua and neighbouring West Papua provinces were unaware that they had contracted the virus.

The small province has a population of more than 130,000

Although the figures are alarming, staff at the Waa Waa hospital, which is managed by Freeport-McMoRan - the company that owns the mine - are doing their best to provide help and medication to indigenous Papuans.

The hospital currently provides free medication to patients suffering from HIV/AIDS.

Susan said: “In the hospital they’re providing help, however accessing all the people is difficult due to the remoteness of some communities.”