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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

    

IN THE STRUGGLE AGAINST HIV/AIDS

Zelia Cordeiro, SSpS

Since the HIV/AIDS pandemic began in the early 1980s, it has been spreading rapidly in many developing countries. Today, its impact on health and socio-economic development is highly visible in these countries, and their attempts to prevent and control the spread of HIV/AIDS have so far met with little success. In fact, the prevalence of HIV infection among young adults in developing countries has increased at an alarming rate.

The Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, in a statement for World Aids Day 2003 said that this year five million people were infected with HIV – 14.000 every day; 95 per cent of them live in low – and middle-income countries, 60 per cent in sub- Saharan Africa. Half of them are between ages 15 and 24. Forty million people are living with HIV/AIDS; 3 million died this year.

In this context, the myths, stereotypes and judgments surrounding HIV/AIDS and its transmission are as deadly as the virus itself.

In Papua New Guinea, the first case was diagnosed in 1987. Since then the number of HIV/AIDS cases has been increasing dramatically. In order to answer the increasing demand in this country, Sharon Walker the adviser for counseling and care in the National HIV/AIDS support project in conjunction with the National AIDS Council of PNG, organized an exposure trip to some African countries. The aim of the project, supported by the Australian Government, was to visit HIV/AIDS programs in Africa and learn from them how to improve the national HIV/AIDS program in Papua New Guinea. For this task nine people from different provinces and different professional and religious backgrounds were selected to go to Africa for a study trip. During the four week - program the group visited South Africa, Kenya, Zambia and Uganda. We, Holy Spirit Sisters were fortunate to be chosen to be with the group. Sr. Tarcisia, SSpS the National Catholic AIDS Coordinator for PNG and I as a media person for the group.

    

HIV/AIDS in Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa is the region of the world that is most affected by HIV/AIDS. An estimated 29.4 million people are living with HIV/AIDS and approximately 3.5 million new infections occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2003. According to the coordinator of community project of South Africa, Joyce Mnisi only last year the epidemic has claimed the lives of an estimated 2.4 million Africans. Moreover a million young people (age 15-24) and almost 3 million children under 15 are living with HIV.

In Soweto, the project visited by the Papua New Guinean group was a children’s care program. The Children’s care program, led by the Salvation Army, is currently helping 31 children affected and infected by HIV/AIDS. Visiting villages and offering counseling, support and awareness is also part of the Salvation Army program.

During our visit to the village we heard sad stories, like that of a 19 year old young woman taking care of her two young brothers and sister, because her parents have died of AIDS, and how grandmothers looking after grandchildren is quite common around Soweto, a town of over 5 million people.

While in South Africa there are many Children’s Care centers designed to attend the need of metropolis like Johannesburg and Soweto, in Zambia, the orphans are looked after by the community. They believe that there is no other place better than a family environment for the children to be brought up.

In Ckikankata, a village located four hours drive from Lusaka, capital city of Zambia, the group visited the “Children in Need Program”. The project, started by a group of women, was a community response to HIV/AIDS in that community. With the technical support of the manager - AIDS management and training services, Benny Njobvu, the group formed a committee to discuss problems affecting orphans and vulnerable children. At the moment they are taking care of 54 children. In 2003 they planted maize and harvested a good number of bags of maize, which they were able to sell so as to buy second hand clothes to distribute among the orphans.

    

Apart from that they also went to a goat bank, where they bought some goats and gave them to some of the guardians keeping the orphans.  The offspring of these goats will be given to other guardians. According to Benny, it will empower economically those taking care of orphans as well as motivating them. The women’s committee, also advocates on behalf of the children with regard to property and school related issues.

In Uganda, “in the year 2002 alone, 70,000 Ugandans died of HIV/AIDS and another 70,000 got infected”, said Kinaalwa Geoffre Semailula, Chairman AIDS Challenge Youth Club TASO (The AIDS Support Program) Mulago. Yet, Uganda is recognized worldwide for its efforts in reducing the prevalence of HIV. Prevention strategies that focus on abstinence and being faithful have been dramatically effective in reducing HIV rates in Uganda.

Mulago National referral hospital founded way back in 1993 as a venereal disease treatment centre, is today in the forefront of the fight against HIV/AIDS through its pioneering prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS using the Niverapine drug as well as the treatment and care for mothers and children.

All over the world, the HIV/AIDS epidemic is having a profound impact. It also tends to bring out the best and worst in people. It triggers the best when individuals group together in solidarity to combat government, community and individual denial and to offer support and care to people living with HIV/AIDS. A good example of this is the TASO drama group with its program that brings people who are HIV positive to share their life’s story through media of music, dance and drama. The drama group is a practical and creative way of promoting awareness throughout the country says Charles Makanga, TASO drama group chairman.  Initiatives like the TASO drama group could serve as a model for further awareness programs here in Papua New Guinea.

June 05, 2004

 

 

 

 

 

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