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AIDS sorcery disrupts the innocent culture of Papua New Guinea

Who are the true witchdoctors at work there?

Recently our resident blonde critic appeared in the study in a tearful state, having been briefed by NPR on the efforts by peasants who grow coffee to achieve justice in the face of exploitation. Consequently, in line with her decree, we made sure to buy “Free Trade” organic coffee from Papua New Guinea next time we were in Fairway, which proved to be both morally and gustatorily satisfactory even at $10.06 a pound.

Until, that is, we came across the latest outrage to sense and sanity perpetrated by the HIV?AIDS missionaries, who have apparently taken to tormenting the natives of Papua New Guinea with the news that they are riddled with HIV or at least antibodies to it, and this signals a dark future for them unless they abandon their primitive but proven way of life and submit to the dictates of the newly arrived scientific church of AIDS.

Officially there are only about 12,000 people infected with HIV-AIDS in PNG, but AIDS workers estimate that under-reporting and reluctance to be tested mean the real number ranges from 80,000 to 120,000.

The island’s 5.4 million people, most of whom live a rural subsistence life, presently face an epidemic on a par with Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand.

But AIDS experts say that, with an annual infection rate of 33 percent, PNG is on the verge of an African-style epidemic that could kill millions and destroy the economy.

There are only 12,000 Papuans who have tested positive so far, officially, but “AIDS workers” feel that this is an underestimate and as many as 120,000 are hidden from the census.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr Alphonse Tay, head of Port Moresby General Hospital. “In 10 to 20 years’ time about 50 percent of the population is going to be affected by HIV.”

And by what means is this rapid spread of HIV antibody positivity among the hapless primitives of New Guinea effected? According to Reuters correspondent Michael Perry, who researched this sensational story, it is through polygamy and rape, sometimes gang rape by the police and sometimes of 13 year olds.

This is what is fueling a 33 per cent spread annually, we are told. There have been 151 rapes already this year in Port Moresby, and the local AIDS expert, a Francisan monk who spent 30 years in the jungle before opening an AIDS clinic in the town, says that even 13 year olds are endangered. He carries out “mass funerals of AIDS babies”. One wife was infected by her husband “one drunken night”. And so on, and on.

There have been 151 rapes reported in Port Moresby so far this year and a recent human rights report said a culture of police violence sees officers engaging in gang rapes and spreading HIV-AIDS by beating those who carry condoms.

Many HIV-positive husbands knowingly infect their wives by refusing to wear condoms, believing it lessens their manhood.

“Money in this country justifies anything,” said Father Jude. “If one picks up a 13-year-old for sex, it’s illegal, but if one pays compensation to the family, it’s okay.”

All this means that in ten or twenty years half the 5.4 million people of Papua New Guinea could be HIV positive, “AIDS experts” reckon, unless they clean up their act. Meanwhile the Papuans generally view AIDS as sorcery and have taken to throwing HIV positive people into rivers or graves or starving them to death, for fear of being infected themselves.

All this evidence of ignorance on the part of the Papuan natives goes along, however, with claims by the same “AIDS experts” which themselves flout some of the clearest results of papers in the HIV?AIDS mainstream literature, in particular the data that shows that the ability of men to transfer HIV in heterosexual sex is almost nil (1 in 1000 bouts, if that).

So which group is truly ignorant? Perhaps there would be more reason, justice and sanity if the natives took to flinging the AIDS experts into rivers and graves, or starved them to death, rather than their friends and relations unfortunate enough to test “HIV positive”.

In fact, we rather wish they would. Evidently our efforts to support them by drinking their coffee beans are going to naught, as the AIDS missionaries bring the instruments of their fatal sorcery into the country.

(show)

Sorcery, shame hinder PNG fight against AIDS

04 Nov 2005 01:01:00 GMT

Source: Reuters

By Michael Perry

PORT MORESBY, Nov 4 (Reuters) – Sorcery and fear of AIDS in the jungle villages of Papua New Guinea has seen infected people thrown into rivers to drown, dumped in graves to die or abandoned to starve to death, according to those fighting the disease.

To have HIV-AIDS in Papua New Guinea, a jungle-clad, mountainous South Pacific island nation, is to be an outcast in a country struggling with the modern world, where some villages only encountered Western civilisation in the 1930s.

“If they haven’t seen it before they think it must be sorcery,” said Franciscan Father Jude, who has worked in the jungles for 30 years, and runs an HIV-AIDS clinic in Port Moresby.

“They throw HIV-infected people into the river or dig a grave and put them in it and let them die, or just leave them down the backyard and refuse to feed them,” Jude told Reuters.

Officially there are only about 12,000 people infected with HIV-AIDS in PNG, but AIDS workers estimate that under-reporting and reluctance to be tested mean the real number ranges from 80,000 to 120,000.

The island’s 5.4 million people, most of whom live a rural subsistence life, presently face an epidemic on a par with Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand.

But AIDS experts say that, with an annual infection rate of 33 percent, PNG is on the verge of an African-style epidemic that could kill millions and destroy the economy.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr Alphonse Tay, head of Port Moresby General Hospital. “In 10 to 20 years’ time about 50 percent of the population is going to be affected by HIV.”

The disease has found fertile ground in PNG, where polygamy is common and rape and sexual violence widespread.

There have been 151 rapes reported in Port Moresby so far this year and a recent human rights report said a culture of police violence sees officers engaging in gang rapes and spreading HIV-AIDS by beating those who carry condoms.

Many HIV-positive husbands knowingly infect their wives by refusing to wear condoms, believing it lessens their manhood.

“Money in this country justifies anything,” said Father Jude. “If one picks up a 13-year-old for sex, it’s illegal, but if one pays compensation to the family, it’s okay.”

STIGMA, ABANDONMENT

Ruth Timon, 26, lies asleep on a dirty bed in the unofficial AIDS ward in Port Moresby General Hospital. She has been in the ward for two weeks and rarely does anyone come to visit. She has been disowned by her family, nurses say, left alone to die.

There is no official AIDS ward as the stigma attached to the disease would leave such a place empty, says Dr Tay, adding 10 percent of the 64 beds in Ward 4B are occupied by AIDS patients.

On the nurses’ counter nearby is a cardboard box with “Death Certificates” written in large letters — death is never far away here. There are no name cards on the beds, just a number. Each bed has a single sheet that scarcely covers the emaciated bodies.

While anti-viral medicines are free for those with HIV, patients rely on families to bring food and drink. Many come from remote villages, meaning that mothers and wives must sleep under the beds when they need a rest from nursing their sick loved ones.

“We don’t do any nursing. The families do the nursing. The nurses just give the drugs,” said ward sister Elizabeth Waken.

Waken is frustrated by a lack of staff, medicines and supplies to run her ward. There are no bedpans and the tropical heat is oppressive as most fans hang lifeless, many broken.

PNG’s health system is ailing. Hospitals routinely run out of simple medicines, and equipment is not repaired or replaced.

The 2005 health budget is 110 million kina (US$37 million), of which a mere 190,000 kina goes to fight AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. The fight against AIDS relies on aid donors, who say they are also frustrated in delivering services.

BODIES DUMPED

At night, families ashamed of AIDS leave bodies at the Port Moresby General Hospital entrance. Some 60 to 80 bodies, not all AIDS-related, are dumped each month.

The morgue is overflowing with 116 bodies, half of which are AIDS deaths. The morgue’s cooling system is broken. Rocks keep the cool rooms closed, but bodies decompose, as staff prepare two nearby shipping containers to act as a makeshift morgue.

“A lot of bodies in the hospital morgue are HIV-AIDS but people are not coming to claim them. They are in fear of getting infected,” said Dr Tay. Each month there are mass burials.

At Nine Mile Cemetery on the outskirts of the city, plastic flowers mark row upon row of graves beneath the cracked earth. It is here that Father Jude carries out mass burials of AIDS babies.

Cemetery workers sometimes find AIDS bodies dumped overnight in freshly dug graves. “A lot of people are buried all over the place quietly,” said Father Jude as he walked through the graves.

Much of the HIV-AIDS work in PNG is done by churches, but some zealous religious groups are hindering treatment.

On the walls of the entrance to the Port Moresby General Hospital are posters proclaiming: “There’s a cure for HIV-AIDS”. The posters by the Revival Centres of PNG Fellowship show three smiling people who claim God had cured them of full-blown AIDS.

For those trying to educate people that HIV-AIDS is just another disease that can be treated, discretion is vital.

In central Port Moresby is a tin shed inside a compound, like many in the city surrounded by a high fence and razor wire.

The shed is the Salvation Army’s HIV-AIDS care centre.

There are no signs and the centre is kept secret for fear the patients inside will be ostracised and become homeless.

“The relatives don’t know they come here every week,” said Salvation Army Major Araga Rawali.

“They ask us not to come to their homes.”

People are so scared that most refuse to speak about their illness. “People watch me, it is shame (I feel),” said Anna, infected with HIV by her husband one drunken night. ($1=3.0 kina)

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