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AIDS on our doorstep

PNG based Franciscan priest, Fr Jude Ronayne-Forde, who runs PNG's first HIV/AIDS hospice, has made a moving grave-side appeal for doctors skilled in caring for children with HIV/AIDS to come to PNG's assistance as it stands poised to be ravaged by the pandemic.

Fr Ronayne-Forde made the appeal on the occasion of the burial of 17 unwanted babies who died of AIDS in the tiny pacific nation. The babies' remains were buried at the 9-Mile Cemetery outside Port Moresby after lying in the city morgue since last January.

The case highlights both the growing AIDS pandemic in the Asia Pacific region, and the treatment of AIDS sufferers, especially women and children. PNG has the highest reported rate of HIV infection in the Pacific with an estimated HIV prevalence of over 1% among women attending antenatal clinics. In 2003, an estimated 150 new cases of HIV infection were reported each month and AIDS has become the leading cause of mortality and morbidity among adults at the Port Moresby General Hospital.

PNG's The National newspaper earlier this month reported that widespread violence and abuse is heaped upon weaker sections of society, including those with AIDS. The Australian AIDS Fund's founder, Brian Haill, told Online Catholics that such violence is a routine accompaniment to the AIDS pandemic.

"Only last week we sent a protest to India after getting the news that a woman in Orissa had been burned alive by a fearful community. Her husband had died of AIDS six months earlier, and they thought she posed a risk to her," Mr Haill said.

Haill also warned that the whole geographic region may soon overtake Africa as the next epicentre for the pandemic. Deregulated health services and an influx of people to the cities are thought to contribute to the increase of the disease. The HIV/AIDS prevention and control activities in PNG are heavily dependent on funding from AusAid which has been providing about 90% of all resources.

In his graveside address, Fr Ronayne-Forde also pleaded for understanding of the plight of the parents and families of AIDS victims, citing their great hardships.

According to the 2004 UNAIDS Report, of the 37.8 million people living with HIV/AIDS, 7.4 million are in Asia. In 2003, about 500,000 Asians died because of the virus out of a total worldwide death toll of 2.9 million.

On 17 October, the Governor of West Sepik, Mr Carlos Yuni, insisted that condoms should be banned throughout the length and breadth of PNG. The answer to HIV/AIDS was abstinence as urged by the Catholic Church, said the Governor. Papua New Guinea has approximately 5 million people, of whom one and a half million are Catholics.

The Australian AIDS Fund has made an emergency donation to the victims of AIDS in PNG and is appealing to the Online Catholics family for further financial help.

Contributions may be sent to The Australian AIDS Fund Inc, PO Box 1347, Frankston, Victoria 3199

Read more:

  • The National

  • BBC Panorama

  • Asianews.it

  • UNAIDS at Country Level Progress Report




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