November 16, 2012
Unni Karunakara, president of Médecins Sans Frontièrs (MSF), also known as Doctors without Borders, recently urged the new government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) to address the epidemic levels of sexual and domestic violence in the country. Karunakara was in PNG to visit MSF projects targeting family and sexual violence and met with officials from the new government to advocate on behalf of this issue.
MSF estimates that 70 percent of women in PNG will be raped or physically assaulted in their lifetime. Karunakara stated that these levels of violence are very high for a country that is not at war or in a state of civil unrest. He noted that violence is how the society negotiates disputes, conflict between tribes, and relationships in the family. In its two projects -- one in a coastal city and the other in the southern highlands -- MSF sees 60 rape cases a month, and some of the women returned repeatedly.
PNG's sexual violence is even more serious because of the country's high rate of HIV/AIDS infection. Approximately 1 percent of the population of almost 7 million is estimated to be HIV positive, and more than 60 percent of these cases are women and girls. So far, the efforts to control the problem have focused on law and order, but Karunakara suggested there should be more emphasis on medical and psychological support. At his meeting with representatives of the new government, he urged them to provide family support clinics where women can be treated and counseled, immunized against STDs, and offered contraception. Karunakara felt that the meetings had been very positive and that officials had expressed support in trying to address the problem.