Report: PNG Facing Increasing Costs From HIV/AIDS

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Minister says human rights ‘key’ in prevention and support

By Melissa Martin

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Dec. 3, 2012) – Papua New Guinea faces an increasing burden of HIV infection with its associated economic, social and human costs, according the First National Dialogue Report on HIV, Human Rights and Law, launched last Friday at the National AIDS Council Secretariat in Port Moresby.

Structural factors, including religious and traditional beliefs, underline the deep rooted and pervasive stigma and discrimination against sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM) and high rates of violence against women.

This contributes to the transmission of HIV as well as well as efforts at prevention, treatment, care and support.

The Minister for Health HIV and AIDS Michael Malabag, while officiating at the launching, stated that the issues of Human Rights and Law are the key aspects of HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

"We need to work together to tackle and reduce prejudice, stigma and discrimination, and negative attitudes at all levels. We must ensure that the key affected population[s] receive the services they need and have the right to live in a welcoming environment," he stressed.

[PIR editor’s note: Rural communities in PNG continue to face challenges in accessing medication used to treat HIV, according to Yeinomga, Stewards of Life, Tru Prens and Tru Warriors, which are PNG-based support networks. In the last 18 months, PNG reportedly faced significant national shortages of medications on four occasions, and UNAIDS representatives say the lack of medication may lead to increases in HIV/AIDS related illnesses, treatment failure and possibly death. Meanwhile, while in Australia, Prime Minister Peter O'Neill claims he is confident PNG will be able to overcome HIV/AIDS, saying since the disease has been "stabilized" and is "on the decline" in PNG, the country is now "on top of the issues."]

He also commended the work of the former Minister for Community Development Dame Carol Kidu for providing the needed political leadership to the Reference Group on HIV, Human Rights and the Law in progressing with this issue all the way to Cabinet.

He said that Dame Carol brought together all groups, including Igat Hope, Friends Frangipani, and Transgender Individuals, Men who have Sex with Men (MSM), NGOs and others.

The Dialogue Report was set up following the active work and advocacy by a national Reference Group on the Initiative on decriminalization of sex workers and MSM.

The dialogue brought together more than 200 people from all over PNG to discuss and debate how the country could best respond to the legal and human rights challenges posed by the HIV Epidemic.

By 2009, it was estimated that about 0.92% of the adult population, or around 34,000 people were living with HIV/AIDS.

The National HIV and AIDS Strategy 2011-2015 emphasizes on the importance of measures to address these factors. This includes addressing HIV-related stigma and discrimination, reducing gender base violence, advocating for vulnerable children and orphans as well as addressing legal factors that may heighten vulnerability.

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