By Meleasie Goviro – EM TV News, Port Moresby
Representatives from the US Embassy held a public forum on HIV/AIDS at the National Library yesterday to mark World AIDS Day.
According to the Global AIDS Response Progress Reporting (GARPR) statistical data, PNG still has the highest number of HIV/AIDS cases in the Pacific, and is ranked fourth in South East Asian countries.
The commemoration of the day brought to light approaches that communities, advocate groups and NGOs have adapted to produce accurate statistics in order to effectively treat HIV infected patients and bring death tolls to zero.
According to Dr. Percy Pokeya, CDC Senior Advisor, approximately 34,000 are known to be infected with the virus; 16,000 of which are receiving antiretroviral drugs.
One thing that drugs aren’t able to cure is the stigma and discrimination that HIV victims deal with every day.
Brad Coley, Economic Officer with the US Embassy, said it was the main reason for the poor state of many countries surveillance systems and PNG is no exception.
On a similar note US Ambassador, Walter North, in his speech said the government needed to do a better job of reaching key populations: sex workers, transgender people, and men who have sex with men – or with men and women.
They are at high risk for getting infected with HIV and face even higher levels of discrimination and stigma that can scare them away from treatment.
“Many of the current laws of Papua New Guinea on sexual behaviour re-enforce a cycle of exclusion and fear. There is an urgent need to review those laws and to sensitise health centre staff to the health needs of key populations,” North said.
US Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission, Joel Maybury, challenged Papua New Guineans to continue the fight against HIV/AIDS every day and not just on World AIDS Day.
He said HIV/AIDS advocates could only do so much as speak for the HIV patients forced to live in the shadows, but if many are unable to come out in fear of being ill-treated how can we stop the spread of HIV, discrimination does little to help bring this epidemic under control.