Positive impact in South Papau

Positive impact in South Papau

Caritasnews magazine
Jane Woolford
Summer 2008

December 1st 2008 is World AIDS Day. A day to reflect on the impact of HIV/AIDS and to celebrate the many achievements that have been made in tackling what has become an entrenched global pandemic. Jane Woolford, Caritas Australia's Global Education Director, looks at the improvements made by Caritas Australiain West Papuaand the challenges that lie ahead.

Come one, come all. Let's talk about HIV/AIDS. In an isolated village of the Merauke region of remote South Papuaprovince, there's a carnival atmosphere. Tonight, part of the village has been transformed into a 'sideshow alley', a sight never before experienced by the people who live here, a people who rarely see outsiders. Brightly coloured tents have been set up. One of them is particularly resplendent with attractive displays and posters containing lots of information about HIV/AIDS. What it is, how it is transmitted and how it can be prevented. Everyone, young and old, single and married accept the invitation to look at the displays and watch a film about an issue many know of but few understand.

This is the 'AIDS Information Centre', a travelling mobile experience set up by Yasanto, the Saint Anthony Foundation, a Catholic organisation based in Merauke. The Centre was established in 1997 in response to the fi rst HIV/AIDS cases being diagnosed in the area. The tent displays have hit their mark. The looks of curiosity on the faces of the many gathered, their chatter, their questions, their calling of friends to have a look has reached fervour point as the excitement of the games begin. Wide-eyed curiosity turns to laughter and jovial banter as Yasanto staff produce sets of Question and Answer cards rewarding those who answer correctly with prizes. It's a lively, fun atmosphere that delivers education and awareness to a people affected by a very serious issue.

There are 140 villages in 20 districts which are the focus of the Yasanto program. So far, with the help of Caritas Australia, the team have visited 67 of them over the past two years. Considering the logistical challenges of travelling in this rugged and remote province, it is a remarkable achievement. There are no roads within much of papua's interior and the mobile clinic must travel in any way it can, by foot, motorbike, boat, even the dugout canoe.

The clinics are only one part of the program. Counselling and pre-testing are provided to people who are concerned they may be HIV positive. If the person agrees, the blood sample is taken to the hospital for analysis. Care is also provided to people living with HIV/AIDS. There are currently about 40 people, six of whom are children, who receive Yasanto support. The team works in unison with the Merauke GeneralHospitalto ensure life-preserving anti-retroviral drugs are received. Some food items are also provided since the success of the drugs is also dependent on good nutrition.

Every patient is visited fortnightly to receive their supply of medicine. Medical consultations are also available with a doctor and medical professionals who are part of the team. Twice a month also, spiritual support is provided in the form of a voluntary group support meeting with either a Catholic, protestant or Muslim faith leader.

"People know about Yasanto. They come and tell us when someone is suffering so we can go and visit and assist them," said Leo Mahuze, Director of the Yasanto program.

For some people living with HIV/AIDS, discrimination is a sad reality. Rejection by family is a common occurrence leaving the sufferer with no support. In such cases, Yasanto has a Care Centre located in a Government provided building where they can stay.

During their stay, Yasanto staff try to work with their families for reunification. "We have to visit the family and talk with them and try and advocate for the individual who is suffering. Then we continue to monitor the situation and work towards the family coming to an understanding and acceptance of the illness and its impact, allaying fears and misunderstanding," said Leo. Caritas Australiasupports the holistic approach to HIV/AIDS, delivered by Yasanto in conjunction with our Dutch Caritas counterpart, Cordaid.