The National

PORT MORESBY, PNG (June 15) - We welcome any assistance that might help put a dent in the burgeoning HIV/AIDS rate in Papua New Guinea.

Another apparent source of assistance joins the growing list of those with an interest in attacking the most serious problem PNG has faced since independence.

We welcome Family Health International to our shores, and trust that the multi-national organisation, reputedly with offices in 70 countries, will be able to acclimatise itself to the peculiar needs of our people.

Fighting HIV/AIDS in this country is a remarkably different proposition to tackling the disease in the United States, Britain or Australia.

It would seem that Family Health International is aware of that fact, since an emphasis has been placed on the organisation’s experience in the South Pacific region.

It would nonetheless be wrong for staff of the newly-arrived HIV/AIDS fighter to make any assumptions about what social and medical indicators they will find in this country.

Other well-intentioned organisations and individuals have made that mistake, and have had to re-think their campaigns and strategies.

Even some of the local community organisations set-up to combat the killer disease have proven to be on the wrong track.

They have continued to put out often inaccurate and misleading information that can only be to the detriment of patients, relatives and the larger community.

Then there are the faith healers, the herbalists and a whole host of opportunistic shamans intent on making a fast buck out of others terror and misery.

FHI will have to factor-in such negatives if its voice is to be heard, and its message adopted.

In our view - and we have been actively involved with fighting the battle against HIV/AIDS since the day the first edition of The National rolled off the presses — there is a number of broad issues that need to be addressed.

First — the question of emphasis. The debate lies between campaigns targeting the prevention of HIV/AIDS, and the care of infected HIV/AIDS patients, their children and families.

In this country, the heavy emphasis has been on the former approach. Too many HIV/AIDS victims are left to die alone, spurned by society.

Second — the matter of care for infected citizens.

A number of Port Moresby volunteer and quasi-professional religious and community organisations offers a commonsense approach to dealing with this disease.

For example, Port Moresby’s AIDS Holistics emphasises appropriate diet, peace of mind, the avoidance of system-abusing drugs and foods, the acceptance and affection of extended families, and being at peace with God as sensible components of an approach to living with HIV/AIDS.

This approach is commendable as a back-up to full medical care, and it is often the only accessible form of assistance available to the capital’s HIV/AIDS victims.

But it can never be a substitute for full medical support, and cannot offer the kind of specialist assistance that is desperately needed in the PNG community.

The National has campaigned long and hard to try and secure a channel for the importation at reasonable cost of the three anti-retroviral drugs that throw a dramatic lifeline to HIV/AIDS sufferers.

One or two tiny shipments of these drugs have landed in Port Moresby, but since then there has been silence from the Government.

Perhaps FHI, with its global pedigree, might be able to help PNG to formalise an overseas supply of generic abacavir sulfate, limivudine, and zidovudine drugs. Third - the issue of who dies of what.

This is a contentious matter, and one that must be solved as soon as possible. There is no way current HIV/AIDS infection figures can be anything but educated guesses.

Deaths outside of the capital will be routinely attributed to pneumonia, bronchial infections, pleurisy, tuberculosis, and a host of other opportunistic illnesses, when they are the direct result of a mal-functioning immune system.

That is a tiny part of the background in which FHI will find itself embroiled.

Add to that conflicting personalities, in-fighting, suspected maladministration of donated funds and other negatives among those purportedly assisting in the fight against this nightmare, and you have a well-nigh indigestible concoction.

We wish the newly-arrived organisation well. It is the thousands of unseen, unheard and unknown Papua New Guinean victims who will benefit from any success you may achieve.

June 16, 2004

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