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At a glance: Papua New Guinea

‘Unite for Mothers’ campaign brings cheer to HIV-affected families in Papua New Guinea

© UNICEF Papua New Guinea/2009
A patient and her sister at Port Moresby General Hospital in Papau New Guinea receive a new blanket knitted by mothers in New Zealand as a part of the ‘Unite for Mothers’ campaign.

By Nicole Harvey

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea, 10 November 2009 – On a recent afternoon, the head nurses of Port Moresby General Hospital’s paediatric wards, Sister Betty Pandum and Sister Veronica Dramoi, welcomed the arrival of 80 colourful, hand-made blankets.

Delivered by UNICEF staff, the blankets were placed on beds in the wards or were given to the parents of those children not well enough to participate. And every blanket was one of a kind, featuring its own unique design knitted by mothers in New Zealand.

The gift of the blankets was made possible by UNICEF New Zealand’s ‘Unite for Mothers’ campaign, which raises awareness about prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Battling stigma
Sister Betty and Sister Veronica have both been at the hospital for more than 20 years, and both face significant challenges in their work. One major challenge is battling the stigma attached to HIV and AIDS.

“Because of [the] culture, women are more vulnerable,” said Sister Betty. “They can experience rejection from their families if they are discovered to be HIV-positive.”

Fear of societal rejection prevents many people – especially women – from being tested for the disease in Papua New Guinea. Those who are tested and discover they are living with HIV are often reluctant to tell their friends and family.

Support for changing attitudes
“It is always difficult to see patients who are found to be HIV-positive, with children and spouses who remain unaware of their condition,” said Sister Betty.

Such stigma, if left unchecked, can be highly detrimental to a country’s public health. Papua New Guinea is no exception; it has the highest prevalence of HIV in the Pacific region.

© UNICEF Papua New Guinea/2009
UNICEF Representative in Papua New Guinea Dr. Bertrand Desmoulins puts a blanket over a sleeping baby at Port Moresby General Hospital.

In response to this situation, the Papua New Guinea Department of Health, with help from UNICEF, is working to change attitudes. To stop the spread of the disease, Port Moresby General Hospital now has four counsellors on its staff to deal with HIV- and AIDS-related issues.

Blankets for babies
The hospital is also committed to providing for the general health of mothers and children, offering immunization programmes, and training new mothers on infant and young child feeding practices – including the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding for their babies from birth to at least six months of age.

And the Unite for Mothers blankets were also distributed to children suffering from illnesses other than HIV and AIDS – including pneumonia, cerebral malaria, tuberculosis and meningitis.

UNICEF Representative in Papua New Guinea Dr. Bertrand Desmoulins, personally distributed the blankets. “We are working on the front to reduce maternal mortality and to prevent also the transmission [of HIV] from parent to child,” he said. “This means to avoid the transmission between parents first, and then from the mother on to the child.”



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