Reportage

Papua New Guinea strengthens its national AIDS response

13 March 2006

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The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, the Right Honorable Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare, opened the summit with the key note address.

During the First National HIV Summit recently held in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister reaffirmed a three-fold budget increase for the National AIDS Council to address the country’s growing AIDS crisis. 

The Right Honorable, Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, called for an immediate expansion of treatment and care for people living with HIV, and urged leaders of civil society, interfaith groups and the private sector to work more closely with the government to stem new HIV infections sweeping the Pacific island nation. “The epidemic is increasing its hold on Papua New Guinea,” he said.

Papua New Guinea has the highest HIV prevalence in the Pacific, with national estimates placing the number of HIV infections at approximately 64,000.

“What has to happen out of this summit is action and more of it,” said Annmaree O’Keeffe, Australia’s Special Representative for HIV/AIDS. She cited the alarming findings of a recent AusAID study which projected that the number of people living with HIV in Papua New Guinea could reach half a million by 2025 if the epidemic is left unchecked.

Public health data in Papua New Guinea indicate that combined factors such as the rising number of STIs, low condom use among commercial and non-commercial partners, as well as domestic violence against women, all contribute to the rapid spread of HIV infection.

HIV is primarily transmitted through heterosexual sex and women aged 15 to 29 are twice as likely to be infected with HIV then men in the same age group, as relationships between young women and older men are common.  In remote highland areas, tribal traditions such as arranged marriages also reflect gender inequality issues.

“We have the real potential to lose the women of Papua New Guinea to the epidemic,” said Dr Jacqui Badcock, UNDP Resident Representative and UN Resident Coordinator. “We need to intervene on behalf of women,” she said.

Dr Badcock also stressed that the UN Joint Plan to support the National AIDS Strategic Plan - which includes ARV treatment programs and the Monitoring and Evaluation of HIV and AIDS programs - must adopt the best practices model for HIV prevention.

“The absence of people living with HIV in Papua New Guinea’s AIDS response is one of its greatest weaknesses,” said Maura Mean of the NGO Igat Hope in reference to the absence of any people living with HIV on the National AIDS Committee. She emphasized that people living with HIV must be directly involved in shaping Papua New Guinea’s national policy: “It is time for us to come out of the shadows.”

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