In Papua New Guinea (PNG), a South Pacific country of roughly 6 million people, some 2 percent of the population is HIV positive—a rate comparable to that of many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. HIV diagnoses in PNG have increased by 30 percent each year since 1997; the country now accounts for 90 percent of all HIV infections in the Oceania region, which includes Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia. But activists fear more than just the numbers. AIDS advocate Margaret Marabe, who volunteers at the PNG service organization Igat Hope (“I’ve Got Hope”), told the Agence France-Presse news service that the country is often home to horrific acts of violence, which drive positive people further underground and away from any hope of support. “I saw [the live burial of] three people [living with AIDS] with my own eyes,” Marabe said. “When they got very sick and people could not look after them, they buried them.” Government officials denied the claims but have resolved to work with law officials to monitor the region.
PNG comprises largely rural communities, and more than 820 indigenous languages are spoken nationwide. The largely remote population, widespread poverty and vastly different cultures make prevention and diagnostic efforts challenging.
Maura Elaripe Mea of Igat Hope told POZ that the government does not provide any treatment or medical support. The UNAIDS Country Coordinator for Papua New Guinea, Tim Rwabuhemba, says, “The countryside is a closed community. People know each other more intimately, and if someone has advanced HIV, it is known in the community and often misinterpreted, leading to fear and discrimination.” Sound familiar?