Bloomberg News (09.05.07) - Friday, September 07, 2007
Tim Rwabuhemba, Papua New Guinea's coordinator for UNAIDS,
said in an interview that the country's HIV/AIDS epidemic may
mirror the crisis in Africa. Infections are surging, and more
than 75 percent of patients are unable to access AIDS drugs.
"There is an urgent need for more HIV services across the
board here," he said.
The nation of 6 million accounts for 90 percent of the Pacific
region's HIV cases. It is one of four Asia-Pacific countries
experiencing an AIDS epidemic, according to the UN. HIV
appeared in Papua New Guinea in the early 1990s and has spread
to the remote highlands, where villagers did not come into
contact with Europeans until the 1930s.
AusAID, Australia's development agency, said more than half a
million Papua New Guineans will be infected by 2025, resulting
in a 13 percent drop in the available workforce and a 1.3
percent decline in the $15 billion economy. The agency
estimates that in 20 years, 117,000 children will have lost
their mothers to AIDS, and 70 percent of the country's
hospital beds will be needed for HIV/AIDS patients.
Rwabuhemba said the inaccessibility of rural regions and a
shortage of supplies for testing and treatment helped HIV
infect nearly 2 percent of the population, with new infections
increasing mostly in the countryside. He said stigma and
discrimination are challenges, and education programs have not
had the desired effect. Rwabuhemba said he could not
substantiate newspaper reports that AIDS patients in the
Southern Highlands have been buried alive by their families
when they become too sick to care for.
According to the UN, HIV cases in Papua New Guinea have been
growing at a rate of 30 percent a year since 1997. Rwabuhemba
said heterosexual transmission is the most common means of