Extract from ‘Women’s Vulnerability to HIV/AIDS: The Papua New Guinea Situation’, a master’s degree thesis for Flinders University by Sr Manasseh Ola Kelly. You can read the full paper here: Download 'Women’s Vulnerability to HIV AIDS in PNG' by Manasseh Kelly
FROM my experience as a nursing sister for 16 years in Papua New Guinea, I have observed and witnessed that poverty is a fact for most young girls and they engage in sex so that they can put food on the table.
I asked one of the sex workers why she was involved in the sex trades in spite of high increase in HIV/AIDS in PNG in 2008. Her answer was (“are you willing to put money into my pocket and willing to meet my daily needs”).
The World Bank defines poverty as having many dimensions, which include low income, lack of education, environmental degradation, and gender inequality. Women in PNG are not alone when are exchanging sex for food and goods for their survival.
Catz et al state that the growing incidence of HIV infection among low-income and minority women necessitated them to investigate how these women adjusted and lived with HIV/AIDS.
They conducted their study with southern eastern United States HIV positive women and found that these women had a very low annual income. This situation led to the possibility that these women would engage a range of activities in order to have enough money. These women also reflected very high levels of depression and anxiety symptoms in comparison to community norms.
In developed countries, antiretroviral treatment is becoming the standard care for AIDS patients and the same treatment is available for only a privileged few in most developing countries. UNAIDS reported that, on average, worldwide AIDS care related expenses can amount to one-third of a household’s income and is a major contributor factor to the issue of poverty.
In developing countries like PNG, many challenges were encountered while initiating [relevant] programs and opt out activity was put in place following the established 2004 policy of routine testing.
This activity encourages men and women to be HIV tested after information about how HIV is acquired, how it is to be prevented and the importance of HIV treatment. It also encourages people in making their own choices for the testing process. The process also legally covers those who initiate the HIV testing, especially the health workers or counsellors.
This activity is highly practised by the nurses in PNG and there are regular workshops conducted in this regard. This activity however, is very expensive as most people in PNG have to travel from rural areas and cannot afford the transport fees, the expense of time spent in the city, for example, buying food and even meeting related bills.
In sum, my paper demonstrates the increased risk women face especially in developing countries in relation to HIV. It focuses on the impact of poverty, lack of education and knowledge of HIV/AIDS and how it is transmitted, environmental degradation, sexually transmitted infections, particular sexual practices (anal sex), biological systems and on why women were and are left out in treatment and research.
All the evidence points to the fact that women are vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, a result that makes the recommendations put forward in the paper imperative, especially the education of the younger generation in PNG.
Finally, with PNG’s governmental support, schools, church groups, the micro-finance bank and other lobby groups involved in the campaign, the successful management of the issue can transform how vulnerable women are in PNG.