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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Papua New Guinea AIDS Crisis May Mirror
Emma O'Brien
September 7, 2007
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 infection.