AIDS Explosion Warning for Papua New Guinea

A Port Moresby forum on Monday warned of an Africa-like explosion in Papua New Guinea's HIV/AIDS epidemic without urgent and "aggressive" government intervention. The British High Commission-sponsored forum, attended by key figures in Papua New Guinea's fight against AIDS, called for open and direct action "from the top" to combat the epidemic. It warned that the HIV/AIDS epidemic was now so severe it had the potential to affect every family in the country.

University of Papua New Guinea specialist Dr. Clement Anyiwo told the forum that the country could learn from the experience of African countries such as Uganda and Zambia that were successfully addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis. "In Uganda, there is aggressive intervention from the top," he said. The warning coincided with the release of new National AIDS Council figures which show at least 100 reported infections a month, a quarter of them mothers diagnosed with the disease at antenatal clinics. Officially, 4,415 infections had been reported in the country through last September, but the World Health Organization estimates the actual number may be as high as 23,000.

National AIDS Council Director Dr. Clement Malau said the council's 13 million kina ($3.6 million) budget next year would be used to buy condoms, set up training workshops and provincial structures and launch extensive education, information and communication campaigns. "The major challenge is for our leaders to really look at it seriously and develop a multi-sectoral response, address how they decide where they put the resources, how they are going to alleviate poverty and so on. It should be tackled from a broader sense by addressing issues like peace and security issues which are probably bigger than AIDS. Unless we address those we won't have the environment for us to advocate for AIDS prevention that is crucial."

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