Many of you asked me, during my time in Canada, if HIV/AIDS was a problem here.
Yes, it is, and it's growing.
Last week on the radio, the newscaster noted that within 10 years, one-fifth of the total PNG population will be HIV positive. Another newspaper article recently noted that, according to a study prepared for the Australian Government, "one-third of Papua New Guinea's workers could be struck down by HIV/AIDS in the next 15 years".
The article also notes that "Papua New Guinea has the highest reported infection rate in the Pacific" and that HIV/AIDS "would hit the most productive members of the community, especially working age adults".
Over the years, much work has been done, especially in the field of educating about HIV and AIDS. I can remember when I was living at Bundun in 1997 and 1998, there were often groups of nurses at the Centre for week-long courses on HIV and AIDS. The Seventh Day Adventists' development organization, ADRA, has been especially active in this area as have many other groups and non-governmental organizations. One of the best ways of getting information out here, is through the use of cultural groups. These groups travel around presenting plays and dramas on social issues. Parts of the presentations are humorous which always attracts the attention of the crowd – and then the message is delivered.
Within the ELC-PNG, the Church is now formulating its National Policy on HIV/AIDS and discussing how the Church is going to deal with this pandemic. They are looking at counselling issues, issues of dealing with HIV positive people, and issues to care for those families who are affected by HIV/AIDS. In addition, the Church is seriously considering turning one of its hospitals, Yagaum Rural Hospital, outside of Madang, into a specialized HIV/AIDS care centre.
There are two big difficulties in dealing with HIV and AIDS in Papua New Guinea. First, this is a very male-dominated, macho society, in many ways. Second, this is a society where it is very, very difficult to talk openly and honestly about sexual matters.
We work to ensure that the message gets out to those who need to hear it. We hope that this message is then received by those who are at risk. And we pray that those infected might find care and compassion in those around them.
-- Bonnie Weppler