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Increase in HIV prevalence in PNG, Churches urged to help fight HIV hike

Papua New Guinea has the highest HIV prevalence among Pacific nations with a national prevalence rate of 0.8 per cent among adults.

This is an increase from 0.07 per cent recorded the previous year, National AIDS Council Secretariat’s regional manager Valentine Tangoh said Wednesday at the first HIV Summit for PNG Christians when giving a presentation on the HIV epidemic based on data collected last year.

According to Tangoh, PNG HIV epidemic was concentrated in the provinces of Highlands and Momase including Morobe and Madang and Port Moresby and Western Province.

He said the four Highlands provinces which recorded HIV prevalence of one per cent or more are Enga 1.75 per cent, Jiwaka 1.51 per cent, Western Highlands 1.30 per cent and Eastern Highlands one per cent. He said data of specific provinces should be used with caution as lot of mobility happens, particularly within Highland provinces and the neighboring provinces of the nation’s capital where people access services irrespective of their usual place of residence.

“The likely reasons for increasing HIV prevalence and new infection at this point is difficult to explain, however, it has been observed that the 2015 data is much more complete than previous estimates,” he said.

He also said some of the high prevalence sites the HIV situation has not changed as in the case for Enga, Western, Morobe and Jiwaka and rather in some cases shown upward trend like NCD, EHP and WHP.

“Studies also indicate a high prevalence of HIV amongst female sex workers with 19 per cent, male sex workers with 8.8 per cent and 23 percent among transgender individuals.

“There are some increases in other provinces as well especially in Oro, Madang and Manus,” he said.

He said the HIV prevalence in the key population is 15 times higher than the surrounding population, especially in the nation’s capital.

Key populations are men and women who buy, sell or exchange sex for services.

Meanwhile, heads of churches have been encouraged to make proactive recommendations on how they will address the root causes of HIV transmission and sensitive issues associated with it.

Catholic Archbishop of Port Moresby Cardinal John Ribat said this at the first HIV Summit for Heads of Churches in Port Moresby.

“As heads of churches, we will have to report back on our HIV Statement of Commitment which was signed on May 5, 2010.

“It is also a time for us to learn about the current HIV situation at the country, regional and global level and to see where the response gaps are and how we as churches can respond to addressing those gaps,” he said.

Cardinal Ribat described the event as a historical and milestone one and a time for the leaders to discuss on sensitive issues such as gender-based violence, stigma and discrimination, human rights, access to services and issues affecting the key populations in the country.

“This summit is not about solving the problem of HIV and AIDS but it is more about finding a solution through collective effort that will impact on distorted values, attitudes and behaviors of people.

“We must focus on building relationships with our people through Christian love and service so that we may be able to lead them to Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit,” he said.

Cardinal Ribat urged the Government to increase domestic funding to support church programs driven to address the root causes of GBV and HIV transmission.

He said in order to build and maintain that relation, the Christian leaders have to effectively communicate with the people through provision of programs and services at the community level.

Cardinal Ribat believed that the heads of churches who are present at this summit will come up with proactive way forward recommendations to better the Churches response.

Cardinal Ribat acknowledged the churches’ partners and stakeholders for their presentations during the summit on the key issues that would bring light the situation analysis of those issues.

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