Through briefings by the New Zealand Aids Council, NZAID, FPAID, WHO and the NZ High Commission in PNG the 17 of us now have a good level of background to begin our visit with.
The statistics we have been given show just what a serious and complex issue health in PNG is:
- PNG is 1.7 times bigger than New Zealand
- Population is 6 million – of which 82% live in rural areas
- A high fertility rate of 4.3 births per woman
When it comes to HIV/AIDS the statistics are even more difficult to gather as there is much social stigma attached to the disease. The statistics that are available paint a pretty grim picture: 60,000 infections or a prevalence of 1.8% HIV deaths per year – 3,300.
The newly arrived World Health Organisation representative in Port Moresby told us that the HIV/AIDS situation in PNG is now akin to the situation in Sub-Saharan Africa – where prevelance rates are up to 30% - this is in comparision to Asian countries, such as Indonesia and Thailand where infection rates rose steeply but have now peaked and are on the decline.
As with Africa the disease is being spread mainly through heterosexual sex and women have over-represented in statistics – this is thought to be because of three factors:
- Common for men to have many sexual partners
- Prevalence of other sexually transmitted infections which make, women especially more vulnerable to contracting HIV
- Lack of treatment available
Its hard to take-in all of this and wonder what can a country like New Zealand do to help – the problems seem so big. Our programme of $13 million could easily seem like a small drop in an enourmous bucket. The bright spot in all the information we have received is that it does seem New Zealand's funding to PNG is going exactly where it needs to go.
As lead donor in the Health sector New Zealand has taken the initiative and led a Sector Wide Approach (SWap) to strengthen the ability of the National Department of Health to meet the health needs of PNG. It is clear that there is some momentum for change now and the NDOH is seen as reform model for other PNG public departments to follow – but its going to take a long time and there are many bridges to cross.
Today all this background will be put in context when we start our field visits – which include a range of HIV/AIDS and other health project.
Papua New Guinea