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By Sinclaire Solomon

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (November 28, 2000 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---The low acceptance rate of modern contraception methods has added to the risk in the worsening HIV/AIDS epidemic in Papua New Guinea, Lady Roslyn Morauta, wife of Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta, told a seminar.

Lady Morauta said that only 19.6 per cent of Papua New Guinea women of childbearing age have ever used modern forms of contraception, while there is a particular resistance to condom use.

"Of the small fraction of women who have used modern contraception, only two percent have ever used condoms with their partners.

For many men condoms carry a connotation of adultery and prostitution.

"The lack of power most women have in their relationships with their male partners, combined with the prevalence of domestic violence, make it extremely difficult for women to insist on condom use," she said.

Lady Morauta was speaking at an AusAID Seminar on HIV/AIDS in the Pacific at the Australian Parliament House.

She spoke about the community response to the disease in PNG in her capacity as patron of the PNG Friends Foundation, a non-governmental organization established to undertake community awareness and to provide counseling, care and other practical services to those living with HIV/AIDS.

Said Lady Morauta: "If the epidemic is not controlled and spreads at the same rate as it has in the last decade, the outlook for Papua New Guinea is very bleak indeed."

Statistics she tabled at the seminar showed that by 2010:

* Up to 25 percent of antenatal patients may be infected;

* There may be villages where up to 40 percent of young people are infected;

* Life expectancy may drop by up to 25 percent;

* AIDS patients could occupy up to 70 percent of hospital beds;

* The cost of health care would rise substantially; and

* TB prevalence, already high at 20 percent, could rise to 50 percent.

PNG has the highest incidence of reported cases of HIV in the Pacific region, and the fifth highest percentage in Southeast Asia and the Pacific of 15 to 24-year-olds living with HIV/AIDS.

A total of 3,145 cases have been diagnosed, but the National AIDS Council estimates that up to 15,000 people may be infected today.

Testing is limited in most rural areas, reflected in the fact that more than 70 percent of new HIV cases are diagnosed at the Port Moresby General Hospital. In 1999, AIDS was reported as the leading cause of death in medical wards at the hospital.

Lady Morauta said that HIV is not, however, solely a problem of the capital city. "It is just that we know more about it there because testing is available. HIV has been reported in all provinces, and among all provincial ethnic groups."

Eighty-nine percent of infections are through heterosexual sex. And most worrying for women and children, a further nine percent of cases are prenatal.

Overall, about equal numbers of men and women are infected. The majority of cases (43 percent) are aged 20 to 29 years. The average age of diagnosis is 30 years, although women tend to be younger on average (27 years).

Compounding the escalation of the epidemic is a situation of high prevalence of curable sexually transmitted diseases, estimated at 10.6 per 1,000 population.

A number of behavioral practices put people at risk for STD and HIV infection, including unprotected sex, multiple sex partners and commercial sex, the latter clearly having increased as a result of economic hardship.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: 

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