"An honest mistake" - Indonesia apologises for posters saying sneezing can transmit HIV

Health ministry says printing error was cause of misinformation that made its way onto trains across Jakarta

(Trygve Utstumo/Flickr)

Indonesia’s health ministry was left reeling yesterday after printing and distributing hundreds of posters that incorrectly claimed that HIV can be transmitted through mosquito bites, swimming and even sneezing.

Speaking to Agence France-Presse, senior ministry official Muhammad Subuh said the serious blunder was down to a "printing error" and that the posters are being removed.

The campaign was designed to try and increase awareness of HIV, which is a much-stigmatised disease in Indonesia. The posters were meant to say the condition cannot be transmitted in the ways aforementioned.

However, the printing company, which has since apologised for the incident, somehow removed the ‘not’ from ‘cannot’, which led to commuters being exposed to dozens of posters which had completely the opposite message on them to what was intended.

"We have made a public apology and now the banners are being removed and replaced with the correct ones," Subuh told AFP. "They omitted the word 'not', it was an honest mistake."

The ministry was strongly criticised on social media, with many people questioning how the misprinted posters made it onto the trains at all.

According to AFP, Subuh said the printing company did not show the ministry final copies of the posters before they were distributed.

Alex Ooi, at Roots PR in Kuala Lumpur, said taking the printing company out of the equation, the ministry’s mistake is unacceptable.

"From the copywriters, to the designers as well as the brand and communications team, I cannot wrap my head around how such a mistake could slip through the cracks at a national-level," he told PRWeek Asia.

Ooi said some damage has most certainly been done and it will take some time to clear the confusion, especially among those who are less informed about HIV and AIDS.

"It would be good for the Minister of Health to provide a statement clearly stating the next steps taken to resolve this mistake," he said. "While painful, the Ministry of Health should continue to pledge its commitment towards better HIV awareness."

Ati Muchtar, CEO of Fortune PR in Jakarta, said the ministry has made "an unfortunate yet fatal mistake" and that lessons should be learned quickly from this incident. 

"They must improve quality control in every area, especially concerning anything that represents the Ministry of Health in public spaces."

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