November 14, 2005
Terrified of HIV and its supposed connection to sorcery, some in Papua New Guinea "throw HIV-infected people into the river or dig a grave and put them in it and let them die, or just leave them [in] the backyard and refuse to feed them," said Father Jude, a Franciscan who runs an HIV/AIDS clinic in Port Moresby.
The 5.4 million residents of the mountainous, jungle-covered South Pacific island nation are facing an HIV epidemic on the level of that seen in Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand. While there are 12,000 known HIV/AIDS patients in PNG, the real number of infected persons is believed to be 80,000-120,000.
"In 10 to 20 years' time about 50 percent of the population is going to be affected by HIV," said Dr. Alphonse Tay, chief of Port Moresby General Hospital. So far this year, 151 rapes have been reported in Port Moresby. A human-rights report accuses the police of spreading HIV by engaging in gang rapes and by beating those who carry condoms.
Patients in the unofficial AIDS ward at Port Moresby General receive free antivirals but rely on relatives for food and water. "We don't do any nursing. The families do the nursing. The nurses just give the drugs," said Sister Elizabeth Waken of the ward. She is frustrated by a lack of staff, drugs and supplies. Many family members travel from remote villages to the hospital and sleep underneath the bed of the patient they are caring for.
Behind a razorwire-topped fence in central Port Moresby, the Salvation Army treats HIV/AIDS patients inside a tin shed. As with the hospital ward, no signs announce this as a place for AIDS patients. "The relatives don't know they come here every week," said Salvation Army Major Araga Rawali. "They ask us not to come to their homes."