Thursday, March 05, 2009

HIV/AIDS in Papua New Guinea increases as National AIDS Council is "rotten to the core"

More than two million condoms paid for with Australian aid money have been left to expire in AIDS-ravaged Papua New Guinea, AAP reports.

The PNG government's National AIDS Council Secretariat left the stockpile, worth $A190, 000, sitting in a warehouse for more than 18 months.

The condoms are now past their expiry date and cannot be distributed in a country that has the highest incidence of HIV in the Pacific.

The secretariat has just appointed a new board, which aims to reform its activities and look into serious allegations of mismanagement.

Documents obtained by AAP show the secretariat has overspent its budget, with hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted - most notably on unnecessary travel.

The documents also outline alleged abuses by staff.

The secretariat's new chairman Peter Barter, a former PNG health minister, said the stockpile was discovered during a recent audit.

"I've only been on the board a month and have been dealing with various levels of alleged corruption and mismanagement (within the secretariat)," he said.

"AusAID is not to blame. We just need to distribute what condoms we can and get our direction right. We will also be getting the fraud squad (in)."

Another secretariat board member, who did not want to be named, said: "The new board recognises the immense problems within NACS and has commenced a major clean-up."

"NACS has become rotten to the core but the new direction is cleaning it up," the member said.

But board members have said a reduced budget from the PNG government will hinder the organisation as it tries to implement reforms.

Dr Ann Clarke, general manager of the PNG Business Coalition Against HIV and AIDS, said she was relieved that another batch of condoms had recently arrived in the capital, Port Moresby.

"We've known about AIDS since 1987 and could have had an effective condom distribution network set up in the 1990s," she said.

An AusAID spokesman said 45 million male and female condoms were on their way into PNG.

"While any wastage of resources is unfortunate, sufficient supplies of condoms are available in PNG," he said.

Australia has promised $A100 million to help PNG battle AIDS under a five-year program that began in January 2007.

It's estimated two per cent of PNG's population is infected with HIV/AIDS, affecting between 40,000 to 60,000 people.


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