HIV/AIDS Advocates in Papua New Guinea Appeal to Government To Expand Education Campaigns to Rural Areas
Some HIV/AIDS advocates in Papua New Guinea have called on the government and aid agencies to extend HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns from cities and towns to rural areas to fight mistreatment of and discrimination against people living with the disease, AFP/Yahoo! News reports. Margaret Marabe, who works with the group Igat Hope, spent five months carrying out an HIV/AIDS education campaign in the country's remote Southern Highlands. She recently told reporters that she saw five people buried alive because they were living with HIV/AIDS (AFP/Yahoo! News, 8/27).
"When they got very sick and people could not look after them, they buried them," Marabe said. Father Jude Ronayne-Forde of the Simon of Cyrene Centre, which provides care to people living with HIV/AIDS in the country, said such reports remain unconfirmed. "We have had some stories coming out of relatives isolating people and letting them die," he said, adding, "People are quite reasonable when you explain things to them, but they panic when they think death is in the house and they can pick it up." According to Ronayne-Forde, the government and faith-based organizations need to create HIV/AIDS education programs for families and provide instructions on how to provide care to people with the disease (Australian Associated Press, 8/27). Some researchers and officials also have reported that women have been tortured and killed by people who believe they are responsible for causing AIDS-related deaths (AFP/Yahoo! News, 8/27).
Officials in the country said that they are investigating Marabe's claims, the AP/Forbes reports. Romanus Pakure, acting director of Papua New Guinea's AIDS Council, said police and health workers are being sent to the Southern Highlands to look into the situation. He added that although he questions why Marabe did not inform the police before talking to the media, stigma against HIV-positive people is very high in rural areas because of a lack of education about the virus. Similar claims have been made in the past, but none were confirmed, according to Pakure.
The AIDS council and other groups are implementing programs aimed at raising awareness about HIV/AIDS, as well as informing families how to provide care to people living with the disease, Pakure said. Marabe was not available for comment on Tuesday, the AP/Forbes reports (AP/Forbes, 8/28). Data recently collected in Papua New Guinea indicate that fewer people are living with HIV/AIDS than previously estimated but that the disease is spreading more rapidly in rural areas, Health Minister Peter Barter said earlier this month. The data indicate that HIV prevalence among people ages 15 to 49 in the country is 1.28%, compared to previous estimates of 2% (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/10).