Every week, Yawek holds his clinic doors open to around 2,000 patients. Despite the heavy workload for an understaffed health centre, Yawek, the Clinical Director of Malahang Health Centre in Lae, will soon have access to new medical technologies which will allow him, along with other clinics in heavily urbanised cities, to effectively diagnose HIV and commence early treatment. Amongst the latest initiatives rolled out by the PNG National Department of Health (NDOH) is HIV 1/2 Stat-Pack confirmatory testing (single-use diagnostic tests for the rapid, visual detection of antibodies to HIV 1 and HIV 2).
With Malahang located between urban settlements and a rural village, the need for timely and efficient diagnostics is key to effectively managing HIV in a setting located far from larger facilities. Before such technology was available, clients would have to wait up to two weeks for confirmatory test results from provincial health centres. If screening results are positive, HIV 1/2 Stat-Pack testing will enable urban health centres such as Malahang to commence life-saving treatment sooner.
HIV and AIDS is one of the four priorities for Australia’s Development Cooperation Strategy for Papua New Guinea. Since 2007, AusAID has committed $185 million to the program. It will merge with the Health Sector Support Program in 2012. In 2011 the program aligned with the National HIV/AIDS Strategy 2011–2015 to support prevention, testing, counselling, treatment and care and health system strengthening.
Former HIV Program Director Anne Malcolm, who was based with AusAID in PNG, said “the targets are high, but Papua New Guinea has access to the relationships and the resources it needs to effectively deal with its major public health issues.”
National Department of Health Manager of Disease Control and Surveillance, Dr Sibauk Bieb adds that “forming technical standards at a national level was key to fighting HIV effectively in PNG.” Part of this strategy involves standardising the use of Stat-Pack HIV testing across heavily burdened health clinics like Yawek’s. Now, with the aid of the National AIDS Council Secretariat (NACS), prevention of HIV has also been bolstered, with NACS supporting condom distribution which has increased by a third across PNG in a year (from nearly 18 million in 2010 to over 27 million in 2011). This program reflects one of the instrumental steps taken by the National Department of Health in response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic in PNG. With the aid of organisations such as AusAID and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, PNG continues to roll-out world-standard care across the country to fight this disease.
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Pacific Friends of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is a high-level advocacy organisation which seeks to mobilise regional awareness of the serious threat posed by HIV & AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria to societies and economies in the Pacific. In pursuing its goals Pacific Friends has a specific interest in highlighting the need to protect the rights of women and children in the Pacific.