Gender Violence In PNG Possibly Highest In The World

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New Nine-Mile Clinic opens to treat victims

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, July 8, 2013) – The first frontline clinic to offer treatment for both medical and psychological injuries of victims of physical and sexual abuse has opened in Papua New Guinea, a country that researchers say is potentially the worst place in the world for gender violence.

The Médecins Sans Frontières project, named the Nine-Mile clinic, which opened in the capital city Port Moresby on May 10, has already treated 43 victims of family and sexual violence, the level of which is unmatched by anything seen in the career of project head Paul Brockmann.

"The use of violence as a response is simply more shockingly common here than in any other places where I’ve worked," Brockmann told Guardian Australia.

Separate studies conducted in the 1990s found that 67% of Papua New Guinean women had been abused by their spouse (almost 100% in the Highlands regions) and more than half of women interviewed had been raped. In the same study, 60% of men interviewed said they had participated in a gang rape.

"(Gender violence) is probably the number one social problem facing the country," said Lowy Institute’s Director of the Myer Foundation Melanesia Program Jenny Hayward-Jones.

"The problem of gender violence is probably more severe in PNG than almost any country in the world, or is at least very similar to the West of Africa."

The Nine-Mile Clinic is the third that MSF have set up in the country. Since opening they have treated 43 survivors of violence.

Staff have treated more than 13,000 patients in PNG’s second biggest city, Lae, since opening a centre there in 2007, which they recently handed control over to the PNG department of health.

The MSF projects train local staff to offer five basic first response treatments: emergency medical care for injuries, psychological first aid, prophylaxis for HIV and medicine for other sexually transmitted infections; emergency contraception; and vaccination to prevent hepatitis B and tetanus.

Brockmann said the goal was to have a clear package of medical services that was easy to explain. The psychological first aid incorporates lessons learnt at the Lae project.

Brockmann said they were the only organisation offering counselling in an integrated service with medical treatment. It is a way of offering psychological care to patients who were unlikely to come back for long-term trauma counselling after a first visit to get their injuries treated medically.

"So we’ve combined that and we’re offering a psychological first aid which is not counselling. It's basically a stabilisation, a normalisation," he said.

Martha Pogo, a PNG Health Extension Officer who has come to Port Moresby after two years at the Lae project, said this service fills a gap in PNG’s health system, and some patients are now returning for follow ups. "

After the first visit they feel like ‘oh, I’m feeling good, I’m feeling better. There are people here to talk to, I’ve never had time to speak to someone, I’ve never had the opportunity to receive such medical care.’ These are the comments we have received," she told Guardian Australia.

Pogo has seen the results of violence up close in her time at the MSF clinics. "One lady who came in to the clinic had been beaten by her husband when she was two or three months pregnant," she said.

At a third centre in Tari, in the notoriously violent PNG highlands, patients presented with injuries from weapons like bush knives, axes, spears and arrows. "There is more of a culture of violence in the highlands regions of the country," said Hayward-Jones. "In coastal provinces … there’s not at all that same culture or that same tradition of violence as you grow up."

Hayward-Jones said the traditions of violence appear to be spreading as people move across the country seeking employment, inter-marry across regions, and as foreign-owned projects create wealth inequality, and with it jealousy.

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