Legislators in Indonesia's remote province of Papua have thrown their support behind a controversial bill requiring some HIV/AIDS patients to be implanted with microchips — part of extreme efforts to monitor the disease.

Health workers and rights activists sharply criticized the plan Monday. 

'People with AIDS aren't animals; we have to respect their rights.' — Tahi Ganyang Butarbutar

But legislator John Manangsang said that by implanting small computer chips beneath the skin of "sexually aggressive" patients, authorities would be in a better position to identify, track and ultimately punish those who deliberately infect others with up to six months in jail or a $5,000 US fine.

The technical and practical details still need to be hammered out, he and others said.

But the proposed legislation has received full backing from the provincial parliament and, if it gets a majority vote as expected, will be enacted next month.

Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country and has one of Asia's fastest-growing HIV rates, with up to 290,000 infections out of 235 million people, fuelled mainly by intravenous drug users and prostitution.

'We have to take extraordinary action'

Papua, the country's easternmost and poorest province, with a population of about two million, has been hardest hit . Its case rate is almost 61 per 100,000, according to internationally funded research, which blames lack of knowledge about sexually transmitted diseases.

"The health situation is extraordinary, so we have to take extraordinary action," said another legislator, Weynand Watari, who envisions radio frequency identification tags like those used to track everything from cattle to luggage.

A committee would be created to determine who should be fitted with chips and to monitor patients' behaviour, but it remains unclear who would be on it and how they would carry out their work, legislators said Monday.

Since the plan was initially proposed, the government has narrowed its scope, saying the chips would only be implanted in those who are "sexually aggressive," but it has not said how it would determine who fits that group. It also was not clear how many people it might include.

Nancy Fee, the UNAIDS country co-ordinator, said the global body was not aware of any laws or initiatives elsewhere involving HIV/AIDS patients and microchips.

Though she has yet to see a copy of the bill, she said she had "grave concerns" about the effect it would have on human rights and public health.

"No one should be subject to unlawful or unnecessary interference of privacy," Fee said, adding that while other countries have been known to be oppressive in trying to tackle AIDS, such policies don't work.

They make people afraid and push the problem further underground, she said.

Health workers and rights activists called the plan "abhorrent."

"People with AIDS aren't animals; we have to respect their rights," said Tahi Ganyang Butarbutar, a prominent activist in Papua.

He said the best way to tackle the epidemic was through increased spending on sexual education and condom use.