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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, December 6) – Eight thousand people in the Eastern Highlands Province are infected with HIV and they don’t know it. This was the startling news from Dr John Irima of Goroka Base Hospital during the World AIDS Day celebrations in Goroka.

The celebrations included hundreds of people marching through town with placards, chanting words such as "sex is a gift from god do not abuse it’’.

The first case in the Eastern highlands was diagnosed in 1989. Since then a total of 1500 people have tested positive to HIV.

"At the moment the rate of infection around Goroka and the Eastern Highlands is around two per cent," Dr Irima said.

"With a population of 450,000 at two per cent, that means there are most probably between 8000 and 10,000 people who are infected and most of them don’t know it and they can easily go around and infect other people.

"Only 1500 have tested positive which means there are probably another 7000 or 8000 people in the Eastern Highlands alone who have not been tested.’’

He urged people to go for test so they will know their HIV status. Sr Catherine Chinou, OLSH, from the St Joseph’s clinic in North Goroka said Often there were between 10 and 16 people each day. Her message is – "come and get tested. Don’t feel afraid or ashamed. Just come.’’

Julie Soso, President of Women’s Council and Deputy Chairperson of District AIDS Council spoke out on the need for leaders to take the lead in the fight against HIV/AIDS as PNG was now facing a crisis.

She called for a public holiday to be declared for World AIDS Day next year so government departments and businesses will close and allow their employees to participate in the day’s programs.

Dr Irima said the HIV epidemic was already putting a strain on hospital resources.

At the Goroka Base Hospital there are 32 beds in the medical ward and 10 of these (30 per cent) are occupied by people who have diseases due to HIV.

This is putting a strain on the budget of the Health Department. Now the government must spend more money on medicine – money that could otherwise go to building roads.


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