While ramping up prevention efforts by changing behaviour patterns, they are still having to deal with the stigmatising of sufferers and the discrimination they face.
As Ron Corben reports, these are the concerns that were raised by representatives from PNG at a UN regional gathering in Bangkok which focussed on the drive for universal access to HIV prevention and treatment.
Speaker: Eddie Kekea, a counsellor at the Port Moresby-based Anglican churches division of education; Linda John, a volunteer with the support group IGAT
CORBEN: Papua New Guinea has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates within the Pacific region at almost one per cent of the population. Most HIV transmission is through unprotected sex between men and women. The civic battle to deal with the AIDS epidemic has led to faith based organisations, with the churches taking a larger role to educate both the community and members of the churches.
Eddie Kekea, a counsellor at the Port Moresby-based Anglican churches division of education says cooperation between the churches is crucial given their primary role in the community and to foster education.
KEKEA: We have one strategic plan through a framework by UNAIDS and then we used that to cooperatively work for the churches to address the specific needs for the HIV. The particular need focused on is prevention which is the behavioural charge. That is the main emphasis that the churches are emphasising within our framework.
CORBEN: Do you find you are making progress especially say within the male community in changing behaviour?
KEKEA: Since the launching of the churches alliance I have peer HIVs who are men and I am also a counsellor. Through counselling and all these things they are slowly changing their behaviour but if this can be strengthened and if this can be recognised I am sure the system would work well. But as far as I am concerned the behaviour change in men is progressing at a slower rate; and it's a big challenge not only to the churches but to other civil societies as well.
CORBEN: But Mr. Kekea says the churches have faced the challenge of stigma and discrimination in dealing with HIV positive individuals.
KEKEA: Previously the stigma and discrimination level at the churches was very high. It was high because of the lack of church leaders being trained or at least been sensitised to the issues of HIV. But now it's been done the churches are able to integrate the HIV programs into their church programs and leaders are able to understand the effects and affects of HIV and AIDS.
CORBEN: Linda John, a volunteer with the support group IGAT or Hope, says discrimination of HIV patients extends even to public hospitals. Ms John, herself HIV positive, is also critical of those pregnant women who refuse to take a HIV test. She says such mothers forget the child's rights.
JOHN: Some mothers refuse to do the test. I mean it's their right not to have the test but it's important to consider the rights of the child that is in the mother's womb. This is just transmitting the virus to the child and that's one of the challenges I see in PNG. After the delivery mothers are rushing the baby to the clinic - HIV related illnesses and they are diagnosed as HIV positive and it's too late.
CORBEN: John says the volunteers' role is to have an impact on society's approach to dealing with HIV and AIDS.
JOHN: At the end of the day we're all human beings and we all have the rights to live ...without us I don't think we would be able to reduce the transmission of HIV in PNG. We are experts because we are living with it and we know how it is and we know what to do.