Friday, July 25, 2014

Faith healing replacing medication for HIV in PNG


Australia's near neighbour Papua New Guinea is a deeply Christian society.
Most mainstream churches in PNG are trying to improve attitudes to those living with HIV and AIDS.
But with poor medical facilities and a widespread belief in sorcery, belief in faith healing is growing.

Correspondent: Liam Cochrane, Port Moresby correspondent
Speakers: Margaret Anton, President of the Women Affected by HIV & AIDS organisation; Timothy Pirinduo, PNG writer and journalist; Pastor Godfrey Wippon, revivalist preacher

LIAM COCHRANE: Ten years ago, Papua New Guinea was on the brink of an aids explosion.
Stuart Watson, is the country coordinator of UNAIDS.
STUART WATSON: The original thinking in Papua New Guinea, given the facts and figures around sexually transmitted infections around unwanted teen pregnancies - behavioural information - certainly gave us the idea that we were heading towards a sub-Saharan African style epidemic.
LIAM COCHRANE: But that generalised epidemic hasn't happened.
Instead the virus has been mostly localised to the highlands, Morobe province and the national capital district.
High risk communities include sex workers, men who have sex with men and transgender people, as well as those who travel for their work.
Margaret Anton is one an estimated 25,000 Papua New Guineans living with HIV.
And like many she's faced discrimination from family and friends.
MARGARET ANTON: When people found out that I was HIV positive, when I had TB, no they didn't want anything to do with me. I had to walk, sometimes I would spend nights on the road. With shelters, I would find a tree to you know, sleep under.
LIAM COCHRANE: That sort of discrimination even finds voice in Papua New Guinea's mainstream media.
Timothy Pirinduo is a columnist in PNG's only locally-owned newspaper.
Mr Pirinduo believes HIV was created in a lab by crazy scientists and wants new laws to make HIV testing compulsory.
TIMOTHY PIRINDUO: Once we identify those with HIV/AIDs, then we can like separate them from those who are not affected, keeping them in a confinement.
TIMOTHY PIRINDUO: Yeah kind of a prison kind of set up.
LIAM COCHRANE: While Timothy Pirinduo's HIV prison is just an idea, deadly preaching is a reality.
Pastor Godfrey Wippon is a former journalist who now heads the revival centre of PNG. He says it's the fastest growing religious movement in the country.
GODFREY WIPPON: It is growing because of healings, miracles, wants the signs happening in this ministry. The lord heals.
(Sound of PNG revivalists singing)
LIAM COCHRANE: Standing on a beach in Port Moresby revivalists gather to sing and watch on as new recruits are baptised and speak in tongues.
(Sound of revivalists speaking in tongues)
Pastor Wippon believes baptism and prayer can cure AIDs and even bring the dead back to life.
Health workers have told the ABC revivalists visit hospitals and clinics telling HIV patients to throw away their medication.
In a case that shocked many, one of Papua New Guinea's first openly HIV positive women Helen Samilow (phonetic) fell prey to the revivalist message. Even though she was working as an advocate for anti-retroviral treatment, Helen Samilow joined a revivalist church, stopped taking medication and died in August last year.
Margaret Anton was her friend.
MARGARET ANTON: It's just the revival church that told her not to take her medication, that's… they were responsible for her death.
LIAM COCHRANE: Pastor Wippon sees Ms Samilow's death differently.
GODFREY WIPPON: Spiritually speaking, she has been healed spiritually, she died physically, naturally. But spiritually she's right with the lord, put it this way.
LIAM COCHRANE: The mainstream churches in Papua New Guinea are working with the United Nations and non-government organisations to help people access services.
Catholic Archbishop John Ribat is a member of the Christian Leaders Alliance.
JOHN RIBAT: Our concern as churches is to come together to address this HIV and AIDS and fight against the discrimination that continues to divide us.
LIAM COCHRANE: But that division and discrimination has also created enclaves of hope.
Margaret Anton and philanthropic business women Veronica Charlie are planning to build a permanent care centre to accommodate 50 people ostracised by their communities. These men, women and children currently sleep in tents or in the open and rely on charity to survive. For Margaret Anton helping others which HIV is part of positive living.
MARGARET ANTON: I started seeing that God did preserve me probably for my little boy, probably because I'm going to work along with this wonderful women who has decided to take us along and now establish this care centre.
Using my status to help, decided to come out openly and publicly so that I want to be a voice for women out there who have been through stigma and discrimination.

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