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Thursday, 30 November 2006
Page: 109

Mrs MAY (9:33 AM) —Tomorrow, 1 December, is World AIDS Day. It is a day which I hope will very much raise people’s awareness of one of the biggest development and security challenges facing the world today. The latest figures available indicate that there are an estimated 38.6 million people living with HIV and an estimated 4.1 million will become newly infected. Although AIDS is believed to have peaked, some countries are bucking the trend. A notable and worrying exception is Australia’s very close neighbour Papua New Guinea, which has the highest incidence of HIV-AIDS in the Pacific with 115 new cases a day. Reports suggest there are between 32,000 and 140,000 people living with HIV in PNG. These estimates are very rough, as the real prevalence of HIV-AIDS is unknown—not enough people are being tested in PNG. For example, last year only 4,000 people were tested out of a target of 50,000.

PNG has reached a critical point where HIV-AIDS is now a generalised epidemic in both urban and rural communities, in both male and female, in both young and old, and threatens to be an epidemic of similar proportions in sub-Saharan Africa. If the disease grows at the current rate, by 2010, 1.2 million people in PNG will have HIV-AIDS and almost all of those people will be from the workforce, leaving a disproportionate number of dependent old people and children. Already over 60 per cent of occupied beds in Port Moresby General Hospital are for HIV related illnesses, with PNG losing many of its young and able people, the most affected group. Two other most affected groups are females between the ages of 20 and 30 and males between the ages of 20 and 40.

Sexual violence and gender inequality increase the vulnerability of women to the disease as it is difficult for women to negotiate sexual relations and condom use. It is estimated that between 1,500 and 4,500 pregnant women in the country were HIV positive in 2003, potentially passing on the virus to some 1,400 babies during birth or breastfeeding.

Globally, with 65 million infected to date and nearly 25 million people already dead, AIDS is one of the greatest development and security issues facing the world today. The challenge it presents to the Pacific region requires exceptional ongoing leadership. We know full well what disaster awaits if the response to AIDS continues to be inadequate. On the eve of World AIDS Day, I want to remind those closer to home and those here at home—young Australians—that they are playing with fire if they have casual sex without a condom.