THE fight against the HIV/AIDS scourge has come a long way.
To fight the scourge, we have had to fight ourselves first.
We have fought over the kind of language to be used in relation to HIV/AIDS and have largely won the battle.
We have had to fight faith-based organisations over what they felt was a clear manifestation of sin, and have won over most, so that these churches are today among the biggest and most ardent campaigners.
Discrimination against carriers of the virus or sufferers of AIDS remains but there are solid signs of inroads being made.
Political leadership, for the most part, remains aloof and non-committal but a HIV/AIDS law was passed in 2003 and a bi-partisan Permanent Parliamentary Committee is very much active. The HIV/AIDS message has been drafted into strategic planning and policies such as the Medium Term Development Strategy and the Sports Foundation 2008-11 Strategy, which has a huge component for using sports in spreading the HIV/AIDS message and in several other departmental and sectoral policies.
Books, pamphlets and various other educational and informational materials have been produced and are being produced.
That much we must give to all who have been at the front line, from the 10,000 treatment, counselling, care and support soldiers to the dedicated generals at NAC, in the Department of Health, in Government, in business such as BAHA and partner agencies such as AusAID and UNAIDS.
But of course we cannot rest on our laurels. We cannot.
That the war has only just begun is a fact. It is a fact that the enemy has gained a beach head and made substantial advances. Established too is the fact we, and indeed the entire world, possess no weapon that is effective against this enemy except that of knowledge and prevention. And knowledge and prevention are going to take many more years before they get the population to anywhere near where they will make a positive difference.
We sit, hapless and helpless, so much like the people in that ancient city of Troy in the popular Greek legend of the same name.
The story goes that Troy was impregnable such that after 10 years of besieging it, King Agamemnon could not capture it. By and by, Troy was brought down by stealth and cunning when a huge wooden statue of a horse was placed at the gate as a present and King Agamemnon withdrew his forces.
In reality, there were soldiers within the hollow horse who opened the city gates at night to the invading forces of King Agamemnon.
The Trojan Horse is now popular jargon for striking with stealth and from within. Indeed, there is a dangerous computer virus by the name which does exactly that.
And that is how the Human Immunodeficiency Virus is striking at PNG. It resides in our midst, often in the body of our most loved ones and strikes us down through the most intimate act of love when our guard is completely down.
Strategising and rallying our forces against an enemy that is deceptive and unseen will take everything we possess as a nation and as socialising humans to bring it under control, if at all.
It will require detailed planning, taking stock of available resources, review of past progress made, if any, and plotting a future course with the benefit of past experience and within the capacity of available resources.
The National AIDS Council sought to do this yesterday when it brought together all stakeholders to plot the National HIV Strategy 2011-15.
In the process, NAC and company must take heed of chairman Sir Peter Barter’s checklist to critically assess whether we really know:
* Our epidemic;
* The drivers of the spread of HIV;
* The cost of addressing HIV nationally;
* How to mobilise the resources required to address the epidemic;
* How to prevent the spread of the virus; and
* How to care for those infected and affected by the virus.
To Sir Peter’s list, we would like to add two questions: How much resources and efforts are wasted through duplication? Are all the various groups in the country fighting the HIV/AIDS scourge coordinated enough?
Only a coordinated multi-sectoral approach will give PNG a fighting chance to beat this powerful enemy.