Unggai-Bena driving HIV/AIDS initiative

National, Normal

UNGGAI-Bena is the only district in Eastern Highlands that is actively driving its HIV/AIDS awareness programmes, local MP and Minister for Environment and Conservation Benny Allan declared yesterday.
Awareness activities had been conducted throughout the district since 2004, resulting in more than 10 people, both males and females, living with the virus coming forward and publicly making known their status and providing vital information for consumption by the rural masses.
Allan was speaking at the conclusion of a week-long HIV/AIDS workshop conducted for the district’s HIV/AIDS committee comprising 50 representatives from the local communities, churches, district administration and the 20 LLGs.
HIV/AIDS medical doctor and one-time chairman of the parliamentary HIV/AIDS committee Dr Banare Bun conducted the workshop, held from Oct 4-8.
Dr Bun, who runs a medical practice in Lae, had been conducting HIV/AIDS awareness programmes throughout the country and the Pacific through his Bun Consultancy organisation.
He was also the first to diagnose the presence of HIV/AIDS in Papua New Guinea.
“The aim of this workshop is to refresh and equip our district HIV/AIDS committee members with updates on the disease not only in the country but throughout the Pacific and the world,” Allan said.
“Our efforts since 2004 have paid off with more than 10 people living with the virus coming forward and, besides publicly declaring their HIV status, actively helping the committee conducting awareness by relating real-life events from real-life experiences.
“The response has been good with locals opening up and requesting our volunteers to visit them and provide counselling and testing for some.”
A volunteer counselling and testing (VCT) centre was established in Unggai in 2007 with another in Bena about to be opened with the assistance of the US-based Clinton Foundation.
“I am thankful that Dr Bun, with his medical background, local knowledge and expertise in the subject, has provided workshop participants with vital information needed for their awareness campaigns,” the Unggai-Bena MP said.
Workshop participant Esther Hamura summed up her colleague’s general feeling when she said: “I have learnt a lot of new things.
“I have found the workshop educational and informative; now I can return to my family and community and not shy away from using languages with sexual connotations that I had once considered taboo according to customs and traditional beliefs.”
Allan said similar workshops would be conducted next year to firmly establish facts that AIDS kill and not sorcery.
“Unnecessary tribal fights culminating from the sorcery belief can end if people are made aware of what the HIV virus will do to them if they are not careful.
“I also appeal to my fellow parliamentarians to take ownership of the issue and, unless we show leadership in addressing HIV/AIDS, our figures will continue to increase,” Allan said.