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Harassment of street sellers, sex workers, Asians criticized

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, May 29, 2009) – The Business Coalition Against HIV/AIDS (BAHA) on Wednesday issued a scathing attack against Papua New Guinea’s prevailing intolerant attitude.

At the BAHA’s second anniversary celebrations held at the Melanesian Hotel in Lae, its chief executive officer Rod Mitchell cited recent examples such as the harassment of street sellers by the ‘yellow shirts’ in Port Moresby.

"No society or leader should tolerate the beatings, destruction or confiscation or theft of property by legalised street gangs against impoverished peoples trying to eke out a living," he said.

"Street sellers are budding; self reliant entrepreneurs and they should not have to face the indignity or their loss of economic freedom because it does not fit into another person’s frame of what constitutes proper business practice," Mr. Mitchell, who is also the CEO of Nasfund, said.

He also decried the recent wave of anti-Asian sentiment.

"That too is fuelled by intolerance and racist sentiment," he said.

Other examples he gave included the harassment of both young male and female sex workers.

He said they could have been forced into it because they might have "come out of shattered home lives or financial necessity or through the effects of alcohol or substance abuse".

"Whatever it was, rights are not the preserve of the majority, they attribute to all."

Mitchell’s examples led to his statement: "Intolerance abounds in many forms, especially in developing countries like Papua New Guinea where the old clashes against the new and this presents an enormous challenge in developing an effective response to HIV.

"It continually amazes me that we show compassion for the lady who is diagnosed with breast cancer.

"We can talk openly about it, hug the person and, in her time of illness, be there for them.

"Yet how many of us can say and act the same if someone is diagnosed with HIV?

"The voice lowers to a whisper, there is a wall of silence, and many of us just don’t want to know.

"How many of us can reach out to a HIV positive person and employ them?"

Mitchell added that in the two years since its formation, BAHA has established 170 work place policies, the largest online database of organisations involved in HIV/AIDS (over 500); conducted work place training for 453 people, 11 Tokaut Programmes throughout PNG involving 525 companies; and through the Digicel Infoline, answered nearly 30,000 calls at a rate of 80 a day.

BAHA is also recognised as a registered training organisation with 50 certified trainers.

Mitchell also made some observations stating that the success of BAHA is solely because of "our private sector origin".

"We work from a different culture, perspective, know-how and linkages."

He said that a successful HIV/AIDS response did not need a lot of capital.

BAHA works on a budget of K1.3 million [US$495, 000] each year from private sector sponsors and a small contribution from AusAID.

"Commitment and smart thinking is needed instead of cries for more money," he said.

There is however, more awareness to be done in the private sector.

Research has revealed that HIV/AIDS deaths in the private sector were revealed to be from industries related to mobility, with maritime, airlines and security personnel being at the most risk.

This has led BAHA to target interventions among these industries.

During the night, the Serendipity Trust was launched to educate the orphans of the epidemic.

The National:

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