HIV/AIDS In Papua New Guinea Could Mirror African Epidemic

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HIV/AIDS In Papua New Guinea

HIV/AIDS in Papua New Guinea could reflect the situation in Africabecause new cases are increasing and more than 75% of people livingwith the virus are unable to access antiretroviral drugs, the UnitedNations said recently, Bloomberg reports. "It could very much become an Africa-type situation if the required services are not in place," Tim Rwabuhemba, UNAIDS Papua New Guinea coordinator, said, adding, "There is an urgent need for more HIV services across the board here."


PapuaNew Guinea accounts for 90% of the Pacific region's HIV cases and isone of four Asia-Pacific countries with an epidemic, according to theUnited Nations. In addition, more than 500,000 people in the countrywill be HIV-positive by 2025 -- resulting in a 13% decrease in theavailable workforce and a 1.3% decrease in Papua New Guinea's $15billion economy, according to the Australian development agency AusAID.HIV cases in the country have been increasing at a rate of 30% annuallysince 1997, according to the United Nations. Heterosexual sex is theprimary mode of transmission, according to Rwabuhemba.

Newcases often are spread in areas surrounding mining and logging sites,as well as along transportation routes, according to Paul Barker,director of the Institute of National Affairs."People have multiple wives, particularly in the highlands," he said,adding, "I knew of one man in a very remote location with 60, so thatcontributes. There's a strong social stigma, and while people'sattitudes have started to change, it's been slow, especially in ruralareas."

About 37% of Papua New Guinea's population lives underthe poverty line, and 80% of people living in urban areas areunemployed, according to Bloomberg. In addition, theinaccessibility of some regions in the country and a shortage ofdiagnostic equipment and antiretrovirals have contributed to thesituation. Almost 2% of the population is living with the virus, andnew cases are increasing primarily in rural areas, according toRwabuhemba. "Stigma and discrimination is an issue as educationprograms, particularly in the highlands, haven't made the impact wewould desire," he said, adding, "People have not come to terms withthis situation, and there is an irrational fear." There have beenrecent allegations that HIV-positive people in Papua New Guinea's Southern Highlands were buried alive, Bloombergreports. "That was a very big slap for us when we saw it on the frontpage of the newspaper, a great shock," Rwabuhemba said, adding, "Wecannot substantiate it."

Tensions between tribes and a lack ofinfrastructure in the Southern Highlands also have hindered HIV/AIDSservices, the government has said. "Without knowledge of what HIV isand the impact of it, people in the area certainly would show strongfear," Health Minister Michael Ogio said, adding, "The stigma anddiscrimination which may result in families neglecting people livingwith HIV/AIDS in the area still has to be addressed more aggressively"(O'Brien, Bloomberg, 8/31).

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