An HIV/AIDS epidemic in Papua New Guinea is responsible for more than 90 percent of all HIV infections reported to date in Oceania.
An estimated 60,000 Papua New Guineans were living with HIV in 2005. Poverty is the major cause of this high infection rate, and this affects access to education and individual’s attitudes.
This ‘frightening’ statistic gives an indication of the role that the Church must take there.
For the Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea, this means priests are conducting HIV/AIDS related funerals every week, if not twice weekly.
Archbishop Douglas Young, of Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea, told Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand recently that, despite the Papua New Guinea Government’s extensive and expensive campaigns, young people are not getting the message.
Fatalistic attitudes in society are often at the heart of the problem, with young people saying things like: ‘You have got to die of something.’
To combat the problem, the Church has been working hard to generate genuine awareness among the people that will result in lifestyle changes.
Archbishop Young says that priests are often the first point of contact for families affected by HIV/AIDS. The Church plays a vital role in supporting widows, widowers and orphans, as well as providing care and counselling and working to end the stigmatisation of people living with HIV/AIDS.
With the support of Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, the Church has been training priests, to ensure they can support their communities in dealing with the epidemic, through workshops which provide correct and complete information on HIV/AIDS.
Archbishop Young appreciates the support of Caritas, and was to meet Caritas’ International Programmes Manager, Tim Chiswell, in Papua New Guinea last month to discuss how Caritas can further support the efforts of the Catholic Church to provide an effective response to the epidemic.
If you would like to know more about what Caritas is doing to respond to HIV/AIDS, go to www.caritas.org.nz