Papua New Guinea Heading for HIV Disaster, Experts Warn

The actual number of HIV-infected people in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is probably around 28,000 -- three and a half times the official estimate, said Dr. John McBride, an infectious-disease specialist and professor at James Cook University. In contrast, Australia -- with about four times Papua New Guinea's population -- has about 14,000 HIV/AIDS cases, he said.

In the latest issue of Emergency Medicine Australasia, a team of researchers wrote, "Our findings and those of other investigators indicate that there is the potential in PNG for an economic and humanitarian disaster." Dr. Chris Curry, a visiting professor in emergency medicine at the University of PNG, and colleagues tested blood samples collected in the emergency department of Port Moresby General Hospital and found an HIV prevalence rate of 18 percent.

In an accompanying editorial, McBride cited projections showing HIV will reduce PNG's workforce by 13-38 percent by 2020. During three months of work at the Port Moresby hospital last year, McBride found that many patients with obvious signs of HIV infection were not being tested. McBride was at the facility under a pilot project with the World Health Organization and AusAid to introduce antiretrovirals.

"We think the treatments promote testing," McBride said. "People won't come forward if they don't think there's any hope for them."

Australia has pledged $600 million ($461 million US) in the next five years to fight HIV in PNG.

The research, "HIV Antibody Seroprevalence in the Emergency Department at Port Moresby General Hospital, Papua New Guinea," and the editorial, "HIV/AIDS in Papua New Guinea: An Unfolding Disaster?" were published in Emergency Medicine Australasia (2005;17(4):359-362 and 304-306, respectively).