UN Says Pacific Faces New Wave of HIV, With Papua New Guinea on the Brink of Epidemic

UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot today warned Pacific nations that a new wave of HIV infections is likely, with Papua New Guinea requiring urgent action to avoid going "the African way." "The stage is set for an expanding and widespread HIV epidemic in the region due to a dramatic increase in sexually transmitted infections and risky sexual behavior among young people aged 15 to 25," said Piot, adding that such a development could potentially add to the region's economic woes and increase political instability.

Worst affected are PNG and the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya, with HIV infection rates up to 10 times higher than other Pacific nations. "PNG has everything that's wrong -- lots of migration within the country, family disruption within towns and villages, a lot of sexually transmitted infections and a sexual culture that makes HIV spread very rapidly, despite the influence of various churches advocating abstinence," Piot noted.

This week, UNAIDS is holding AIDS prevention workshops with Fiji's Great Council of Chiefs, bringing together representatives from 16 Pacific nations. Piot said grassroots campaigning that respects local cultures while raising awareness about HIV/AIDS is key to preventing AIDS in the Pacific.

Piot added he would ask Australia to lead the regional fight against AIDS in the same way it has on security issues in the Pacific. He praised Australia's efforts to fight AIDS in PNG, where it supports programs worth $60 million (US$44 million). "By any standard, that's a very serious effort but I think more should be done across the region and that's where Australia's expertise and experience could be more extensively used," Piot said.