By OMAE KOAKE
AN urgent call had been made to the National Department of Health to immediately address pending issues that are affecting the availability and distributions of antiretroviral drugs for people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. Global Fund, an organisation which is responsible for providing improved ARV treatment access to people living with HIV/AIDS in the country, especially, infected mothers and their babies, has halted its support services due to unresolved matters within the Department of Health. According to statistics released by the National Aids Council Secretariat last year, more than 6000 people including about 350 children and infected breast-feeding mothers have all been receiving the antiretroviral drugs but the current scenario has left many of them doubting their survival.
The shortage of these vital drugs in the country was made known during the commemoration of the International Aids Day in Dec 2009 by the Chairman of the National Aids Council Secretariat, Sir. Peter Barter, but since then the shortage persists.
Sir Peter commended the government for supporting the NACS with an increase in the 2010 budget but said further that there was still concerns about the implications of recent developments which had indicated that PNG had missed out on the Global Fund Application for Round 9 funding for the ARV drugs and supplies.
“We need to urgently seek funding from alternative sources to be able to continue the treatment programme because denying the people living with HIV/AIDS access to this life-saving treatment is refusing their rights to live longer and the consequences would be devastating to the National HIV/AIDS response,” said Sir Peter.
The shortage of these vital drugs had provoked people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV) in the Western Highlands province last week and they have planned in petitioning the government if there was no response from them to resolve the issue with the Global Fund. The PLHIV’s concerns has also attracted the attention of the Bulolo MP Sam Basil who earlier this week was angered about the situation and has called for the sacking of the National Health Minister Sasa Zibe for not addressing the plight of the PLHIV because the negligence shown by the government was unacceptable.
Meanwhile, an alarming report released by the office of the United Nations AIDS for Asia/Pacific region states that the AIDS pandemic in PNG is pushing the health system to near collapse and wants Australia to work closer with health authorities to combat the virus spread. Prasado Rao, chief of the UNAIDS Asia/Pacific said PNG was of the most concern across the region because the virus spread was still escalating whereas, generally, progress has been achieved in other countries of the region. The UN report shows growth in the number of new cases is increasing exponentially, from 21% in 1984-89 to more than 99% in 2008.
It estimates that there are about 54,000 people living with HIV in PNG and it has forecast that by 2012, PNG will face a prevalence rate of 5.07% with about 208,714 people being infected with HIV which is almost four times the number today.
“The almost challenging thing to me is the PNG scenario, where I think it’s not just the reachability that is important but the strength of the health itself by which it delivers services and it’s a really big problem,” Mr. Rao told the AAP recently.
“And I think much of the health system in PNG is in a state of collapse.”