Papua New Guinea’s Battle with HIV/AIDS
Updated: Aug 2
Author: Jordan Alphonse
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is the largest in terms of landmass and population amongst the 22 Pacific Island states and territories (PICTS) . It has the highest HIV incidence and prevalence in the Pacific region [1,2]. PNG is a country of 8.4 million people and represents 95% of the reported HIV cases in the region . PNG has been predicted to experience an African-style HIV epidemic in 2004 . In an article by Cullen  in 2004, he quoted Dr. Renault who stated, “WHO estimates that two percent of PNG’s population is HIV positive… which means we have 100,000 people living with HIV. Our judgement is that, given the current level of infection and the rate of increase, it is possible that the number of infections could reach one million in 10-15 years unless decisive action is taken” . The biggest question is, has PNG taken measures to prevent this wave of destruction from taking place?.
PNG recorded its first case in 1987 and had a drastic increase in prevalence throughout the early 1990s . In 2004, an HIV epidemic was reported in PNG and a total number of 12,341 people living with HIV/AIDS was identified in the following year [5,6]. Furthermore, in 2011, it was estimated that HIV/AIDS had spread throughout PNG, with about 30,000 to 39,000 reported cases . The increase of people living with HIV has been at a faster rate since the 1990s till 2011. However, after 2011 to 2020, the rate of infection has dropped leading to fewer people living with HIV. This is supported by a report from numerous researchers  at the Kirby Institute who predicted that, “Assuming all parameters remained at their 2011 values, the model predicts a flattening out in HIV prevalence over the next decade with a small increase from 0.86% in 2010 to 1% in 2020”. This became evident when a recent statement by UNAIDS report 2020 stating that , “There are approximately 45,000 people living with HIV in the country, of whom 65% are on antiretroviral therapy”. In comparison to 2011, an estimate of around 40,000 has now increased to 45,000, which is a slow infection rate compared to the predicted rates by WHO experts.
PNG is facing a high HIV prevalence in the Pacific as there are a good number of social, economic and cultural factors involved . The main social issue in PNG is gender-based violence and that is a major channel of spreading HIV . According to an article by UNICEF on Children & HIV/AIDS , “Between 827,000 to 1.3 million children in Papua New Guinea are believed to be living in violent households”. The other major social factor is risky sexual behaviours from young people and also married people as a result from influence from Western Culture . Young people tend to get involve in unprotected sex at an early age and married people are frequently cheating on their partners then getting their partners infected . However, these behaviours were not part of the native PNG culture. In addition, another major issue is that some individuals do not get themselves tested to know their status . Unfortunately, despite the availability of testing and counselling facilities, people do not get themselves tested due to fear of stigma and being shunned by their community .
The response in fighting the HIV prevalence in PNG has shown tremendous improvement. According to World Vision , “Between 2001 and 2011, the rate of new HIV infections in PNG fell by 53%”. This is due to effective actions that has taken place such as increased HIV testing, availability of ART drugs, condom distribution by private sector, addressing stigma and discrimination by Christian Leaders Alliance and support from WHO and other international agencies . The government of PNG has put a lot of effort in addressing the HIV prevalence by introducing tough policies such as the HIV Prevention and Management Act of 2003, the National Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS for 2004-2008 and the establishment of the National AIDS Council . Among other inspirational story the Positive Living Project is a story to be proud of. This project is run by World Vision an Australian Government overseas aid agency that is co-funded by AusAID and PNG government . The project involves a drop-in centre in Port Moresby (PNG’s Capital City) that offers free testing, information and counselling for people wanting to check their HIV status . The Positive Living Project has an aim to reduce the prevalence of HIV, improve care for people living with HIV/AIDS and minimize the impact of the disease .
All in all, the HIV prevalence rate in PNG has gone slightly horizontal from 2011 to 2020 from its vertical movement since the reporting of its first case in 1987. This indicates that the measures put in place by the PNG government along with assistance from international agencies is working nicely. However, the PNG government and its people must continue to put effort in making sure there is a complete reduction in HIV infection, so that there is very few cases to deal with. If PNG can have very low HIV infection rate, the Pacific will be recognized as a region with less impact from these willful disease.
1. World Health Organization (WHO). Papua New Guinea: HIV country profile; 2016
2. Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) [Homepage on the internet] c2020. Available from https://www.unaids.org/en/regionscountries/countries/papuanewguinea
3. Cullen T. HIV/AIDS in Papua New Guinea: A reality check. Edith Cowan University, Western Australia: Pacific Journalism Review; 2017
4. World Health Organization (WHO). HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific Region; 2003
5. World Vision. Papua New Guinea Health and Wellbeing. Australia: AusAID; 2013
6. World Health Organization (WHO). Papua New Guinea-Summary country profile for HIV/AIDS treatment scale-up; 2005
7. Gray R.T, Murray J.M, Wilson D.P, et al. The PNG HIV Model - Summary and Results: Explaining the past, describing the present, and forecasting the future of the HIV epidemic in PNG. The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia: The Kirby Institute; 2010
8. Pacific: Children and HIV/AIDS: A call to action. Bangkok, Thailand: UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office; 2006