The presentations and panel discussion will bring together experts including community representatives, clinicians and researchers who are involved in the HIV response in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Timor Leste to identify current problems and issues and to investigate solutions.
The HIV epidemic in PNG is of significant concern due to high levels of HIV drug resistance, challenges in the delivery and supply chain for antiretroviral therapies as well as a range of systemic problems around health service delivery. In Timor Leste, currently there is a low reported prevalence of HIV, however country reports indicate increasing notifications of sexually transmissible infections. A recent report on HIV stigma and discrimination in Timor Leste has shown serious problems occurring in the delivery of HIV services and the way in which people living with HIV (PLHIV) are being treated.
In joining the evening panel, attendees can:
Gain an understanding, from people who can influence the system, of the issues facing PLHIV and those delivering health services to PLHIV in PNG and Timor Leste
Understand how effective models of collaboration between community, clinicians and industry can work in countries where there are limited resources or structural health system challenges
Be able to identify those components which assist in strengthening the HIV response in PNG and Timor Leste
Dr Gare’s four years studying at Burnet Institute on a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) scholarship were split between fieldwork in PNG and time in the laboratory in Melbourne. But her aim was always to return to her hometown of Goroka in the Eastern Highlands Province. Upon returning from studies in October 2015, Dr Gare was appointed as the Laboratory Co-ordinator of the Sexual and Reproductive Health Unit of the PNGIMR.
It’s PNG’s principal laboratory for research into HIV and other sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhoea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and syphilis. Recently, the laboratory has embarked several integrated studies aimed at understanding the epidemiology of human papilloma virus in PNG and its relationship to cervical cancer, the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in women in PNG.
“The problem of HIV and STIs is not just limited to the Eastern Highlands Province,” Dr Gare said. “In Papua New Guinea, there’s a high rate of infections among young people. In fact, PNG has the highest rate of STIs including HIV in the South Pacific, and is among the top five in the South East Asian region, so we have an important role to play to address a serious problem.”
Let Women Talk is a NAPWHA community-led health literacy initiative where HIV community advocates incorporate their rich perspectives and diverse lived HIV experiences back into strengthening community health responses — where women design and develop the health content and interventions that they want to see and hear. The initiative is one of many activities forming part of the HIV Health Literacy Framework Project, a NAPWHA project supported through the funding of ViiV Healthcare Australia.
Janet Gare is the first woman from the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research (PNGIMR) to obtain a PhD for her research into HIV drug resistance in the PNG Highlands. She is a highly-skilled and passionate infectious disease research scientist, well-equipped with necessary skills to conduct bio-behavioral field surveys, clinical research, design laboratory experiments and monitor disease outbreaks in human population in low- and middle-income countries.
Sarah Feagan is a queer women who has been living with HIV since 2008. She is the previous chair of Positive Women Victoria and has recently joined the team at Living Positive Victoria as a Peer Navigator. She also the Vice President of NAPWHA. Sarah is a co-facilitator of Phoenix for Women and the Positive Leadership Development Institute (PLDi). Sarah has unique approach to her advocacy and is inspired by the lived experience of the body positive to inform her practice. Sarah’s advocacy spans the from the grass roots all the way up to high level governance. She has a global outlook with a local focus to bringing the community along with her.
NAPWHA has joined key stakeholders in the HIV response in urging donors, governments, communities and people living with HIV to redouble their efforts to address the HIV ‘crisis’ in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
High levels of resistance to first-line antiretroviral (ART) treatments
Frequent stock-outs of ART drugs causing interruptions to routine treatment
Crisis-level rates of HIV transmission from parents to children
Many people in key populations unaware of their HIV status
Poor uptake of prevention methods, including condoms
Stigma and discrimination as barriers to service access
The signatories – Burnet Institute, National AIDS Council of Papua New Guinea, ASHM, PNG National Department of Health, National Association for People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA), and Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) – identify the HIV epidemic in PNG as ‘a growing health security risk to Australasia and the Indo-Pacific region’.
NAPWHA’s earliest collaboration with the positive people’s movement in PNG pre-dates the formal establishment and incorporation of Igat Hope — a national association which acts on behalf of PLHIV throughout PNG and represents PLHIV in a range of important forums and committees since 2003. Before there was any formal PLHIV group in PNG, individual HIV-positive advocates in that country had begun to seek support and advice from positive activists in Australia.
Through the Collaboration for Health in Papua New Guinea (CHPNG), NAPWHA was able to plan work in PNG in a more structured way with project activities which aimed to build the local capacity of the people of PNG in their response to HIV.
“NAPWHA are committed to working on supporting our communities in PNG and Igat Hope for as long as is required,” said Dr John Rule, NAPWHA Senior Research Manager.
The signatories make a number of key recommendations including:
A fully-funded and secure budget for ART including immediate roll-out of new HIV treatments
Appropriate training and support for healthcare workers
Creation of a six-month drug supply buffer nationally, and three months for clinics
Increased access to HIV testing linked to treatment and care
“Now is a time for increased focus, attention and resourcing to help our communities in PNG to get on top of these priority actions,” Dr Rule said.