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HIV/AIDS crisis in Papua New Guinea

03 May 2005

HIV/AIDS crisis in Papua New Guinea

An issue for the whole Pacific Region

A recent report that Papua New Guinea stands to lose nearly half of its labour force to HIV/AIDS is a warning the whole of the Pacific region should heed, the New Zealand AIDS Foundation says.

An Australian AIDS study in Papua New Guinea predicts that the country will lose about 40 per cent of its labour force to HIV/AIDS over the next 15 years, which has prompted calls for more funding to tackle the problem.

“The slowness to react and deal openly and effectively with the HIV/AIDS in the Pacific,” says NZAF Executive Director Rachael Le Mesurier, “has been compounded by social, religious and moral issues that have added to the silence and stigma around HIV. These issues were also significant for the NZAF in the earlier stages of our work. Unfortunately, they are not now confined to developing nations but appear to be re-emerging in developed countries, with a potentially adverse impact on HIV prevention.”

Ms Le Mesurier says that the most effective weapons against the spread of HIV are informed and involved communities, the breaking down of social and religious barriers to discussing sexuality and sexual behaviour, and the promotion of human rights especially the removal of laws discriminating against or criminalizing those who are HIV positive, homosexual, or involved in sex work.

“A prohibitive, judgemental approach to HIV drives it underground and furthers the spread of the virus by encouraging silence and inaction. The NZAF supports Pacific HIV/AIDS organisations calls for more funding, and for more openness and honesty about this issue.”

The AIDS Foundation says New Zealand has a partnership role to play in the Pacific when it comes to HIV prevention education and support.

“New Zealand has a large Pacific population and there is a great deal of social, economic and community interaction between this country and our Pacific neighbours. Increasingly our world is a global one and if we in New Zealand think that the impact of HIV on Papua New Guinea’s labour force, and the increasing risks to countries closer to New Zealand, will not affect us, then we are deeply mistaken.”

Part of the NZAF’s response to its responsibilities to provide support and partnership within the Pacific is its hosting of the Pan Pacific Regional HIV/AIDS Conference in Auckland from October 25 to 28.

Titled “Te Whanau O Te Moana-Nui-A-Kiwa, Me Te Mate Parekore – Family of the Pacific and HIV/AIDS” the conference aims to bring together people working with, living with or affected by HIV and AIDS from throughout New Zealand and the Pacific. Discussion will include such issues as how to engage communities in health promotion, intervention and community action; and how to strengthen leadership, policy and human rights.

The conference has received support from Body Positive New Zealand, the Pacific Island AIDS Foundation, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, UNAIDS and the Auckland University of Technology. It is hoped the level of sponsorship will enable HIV positive people, health promoters and community leaders from throughout the Pacific to attend.

ENDS

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