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HIV Aids problem in West Papua must be highlighted

HIV Aids problem in West Papua must be highlighted at the Pan Pacific Aids Conference

The problem of HIV/Aids is even greater in West Papua than in neighbouring Papua New Guinea where the infection rates are said to be at epidemic levels. Comparing the prevalence rates of people living with AIDS the figures for West Papua are at least one and half times greater than the Papua New Guinea figures.[1] HIV/AIDS is a ticking time-bomb in Indonesian controlled West Papua which has recently been determined to have the highest HIV/AIDs incidence in Indonesia, higher even than in metropolitan Jakarta.

Unfortunately the Pan Pacific AIDS Conference being held this week in Auckland will have no representation from any of the health and community organisations in West Papua who are working on this most urgent public health issue. West Papua will however be represented by Adolfina (Dolly) Zongonnau a West Papuan human rights activist currently based in Vanuatu.

The HIV/AIDS problem in West Papua is made worse by poor health monitoring and the presence of illegal brothels established by the Indonesian military and staffed by prostitutes brought in from outside the territory. This situation is at its worst in the Timika region, close to the giant Freeport McMoran gold and copper mine. There are also strong cultural taboos which militate against open advocacy of condom use.

It is vital that the “family of the Pacific” does not overlook West Papua. West Papuan people are Melanesian people who have been separated from their neighbours in Papua New Guinea only by a colonial era boundary. The two countries share common cultural traditions and are linked by family and tribal connections. There is a constant flow across the border of migrants, traders and refugees.

This conference must include West Papua in its strategising for prevention measures, control of the incipient epidemic and help for the sufferers. West Papua needs the help of its Pacific neighbours to plan programmes which are in line with Pacific values.

On Friday October 28 at 1 pm in the Duraforte Room (Level 3, Aotea Centre) there will be an ad hoc meeting “West Papua a hidden AIDs crisis” jointly hosted by Dolly Zongonnau and Maire Leadbeater of the Indonesia Human Rights Committee.

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