The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the National Aids Council (NACS) last month took their HIV/AIDS awareness programme to the inhabitants of the world's fast-sinking atoll, Carteret Islands, to prepare them for relocation to the main Bougainville Island.
The Port Moresby-based team, led by John Kian of UNFPA, included Kaleaman Indistange of the NACS and UNFPA logistics manager Martha Somo.
Members of the Provincial Aids Committee accompanied the delegation to Carteret Island and then on to Pororan Island in North Bougainville.
Kian said the HIV/AIDS virus was now moving into these communities, with the continuous transfer of people from urban to rural areas due to rising costs of goods and services. However, statistics were unavailable as people were reluctant to be tested.
"We are letting leaders come up with strategies [such as practising safe sex and monogamy] to prevent HIV in their communities," Kian said. "We want them to know how to handle HIV within their communities and we want them to discuss HIV openly so that they also know how their communities would live side by side with people living with HIV/AIDS."
Change of lifestyles fears
He said the team was also preparing the leaders on how to discuss HIV/AIDS alongside other issues affecting them, such as rising sea levels and the imminent relocation programme. Analysts fear that with relocation and a change in lifestyle for the Carteret islanders from one based on fishing to subsidence agriculture, women may be forced into commercial sex work to make ends meet.
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Kian said the joint team was bringing voluntary counselling and testing facilities (VCT) to the rural areas as it was expensive for the people in remote communities to go to urban centres to be tested for HIV/AIDS.
On both Carteret and Pororan, significant numbers of people were volunteering for testing, Kian said. "This is very encouraging as many people now want to know about HIV/AIDS and work on preventing it," he said.
Indistange said he would make a special presentation at the August climate change conference in Port Moresby on the HIV/AIDS impact due to rising sea levels as many Papua New Guinea islands would be submerged.
He said the case of the Carteret islanders needed to be taken seriously as they were running out of food crops and needed outside intervention immediately.
Indistange, an adviser on information and communication with the NACS, said a trial relocation had been conducted for Carteret islanders but they had abandoned the project as they were being used as labourers on coconut plantations.
"These sorts of attitudes are not good as people who are already suffering should not be put through another ordeal," Indistange said.
"I know the main island of Bougainville is experiencing major economic activity because of improved prices of export commodities such as cocoa and copra and when these vulnerable people are relocated to the main island, there are fears that the women and young girls will be offered cash advances [in exchange for sex] when they are looking for food to feed their families.
"These are issues that must be addressed immediately to ensure they are not put through other problems by people who have cash and are willing to spend in all different ways they wish."
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