At the Australasian HIV & AIDS Conference in Perth in September, ASHM hosted a meeting between the leaders of the HIV response in Papua New Guinea, our closest neighbour. Those present, including representatives from the PNG government, the PNG National AIDS Council, community representatives and health providers, used the meeting to issue an urgent Call to Action: a demand that partners, donors, governments and people with HIV unite, to arrest and reverse current HIV trends in PNG. This can only be achieved, this Call to Action states, through renewed donor engagement, improved collaborations, greater involvement of affected communities, strengthened health systems and the continued development of a competent and confident clinical workforce.
Of particular note PNG has the fourth highest pre-treatment drug resistance among first-line HIV treatment initiators in the world; additionally here were 300 children born with HIV in 2018 and it is expected that this number will be much higher in 2019; stigma and discrimination remain significant barriers for people to access services compounded by geographic challenges, staff shortages and drug stock-outs.
While these are dramatic reminders of the challenges for PNG, other countries in our region share similar obstacles – in particular, fear of actual experienced stigma and discrimination from health care providers. This is entirely unacceptable, and Australia is no different in this regard with evidence shared in Perth that mandatory testing laws and emerging policies meant to protect first line responders around their concerns of blood borne viruses transmission typically in the context of assault are not based in either current evidence nor ethical effective practice.
Finally, our sector has still much work to do in Closing the Gap in the rates of HIV, syphilis and other sexually transmissible among indigenous communities and First Peoples throughout Australasia. Delegates at the Perth conference signaled their support for significantly more work to be undertaken and resources targeted alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples from youth to elders through the Noongar Boodja Statement.
ASHM remains committed to supporting our sector at home and in our region with our neighbours in the Pacific and beyond, through high quality community informed events, tools and trainings for the work force and acknowledge that uneven progress for 2020 interim UN targets in the HIV response in many countries have some way still to go and Australian organizations continue to have both a duty but also the resources and expertise to lend support.