SYDNEY - Researchers from the Papua New Guinea Institute for Medical Research and the Kirby Institute at the University of NSW say expanded health services are needed to tackle high rates of HIV, hepatitis and sexually transmitted infection among key populations in PNG.
The study, Kauntim mi tu (“Count me too”), represents the most comprehensive understanding of PNG’s HIV epidemic among the key populations considered to be most in need of HIV-related health services.
It provides crucial clinical and behavioural information to assist plan a national response to support the country’s efforts in prevention and care.
The survey, the first of its kind conducted in PNG, collected data from populations considered most at risk for HIV and sexually transmissible infections (STIs): female sex workers; men who have sex with men; and transgender women.
Dr Angela Kelly-Hanku, principal investigator on the study, says the research provides clear information to guide where the country’s limited resources need to be targeted to turn the epidemic around.
“HIV prevalence among female sex workers in Port Moresby was 14.9%, Lae 11.9% and Mt Hagen 19.6%. Even more concerning is that less than half those with HIV were aware they had the virus. Far more work needs to be undertaken to ensure increased access to testing,” said Dr Kelly-Hanku.
The report showed that among men who have sex with men and transgender people, HIV prevalence was 8.5% in Port Moresby and 7.1% in Lae.
STI rates were similarly concerning, with more than half of female sex workers and over one-third of men who have sex with men and transgender women diagnosed with one or more STIs, excluding HIV.
“The rates of HIV, hepatitis and STIs in these populations are alarming. However, equally concerning is the high prevalence of stigma, sexual and physical violence, poverty and depression experienced by these populations,” said Dr Kelly-Hanku.
The report revealed that almost half the female sex workers, men who have sex with men and transgender women surveyed said they felt they needed to hide their sexual practices when accessing health services.
“People who are concerned about stigma from health services may be deterred from attending and will not be able to receive the full range of services available,” she said.
“This is why a holistic approach to HIV and STIs is urgently needed in PNG, alongside a scale-up in supply of essential antibiotics and HIV treatment.”