Sexually transmitted infection management program

The Papua New Guinea (PNG) Sexually Transmitted Infection Management program improves the sexual health of people in PNG by providing good quality health services in target areas.

About the program

Counselling at a mobile clinic in Mingende community

This program reflects a proactive approach to tackling the spread of HIV/AIDS in PNG by addressing the issue of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). STIs significantly increase the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, and many provinces in PNG report alarmingly high death rates due to the complications of untreated STIs. PNG has the highest incidence of HIV in the Pacific region. It is estimated to affect just under 1 percent of the population – approximately 54,000 people.

The PNG STI Management program focuses on education, prevention and treatment. The program conducts community research and development to identify strategies to address root causes of STIs, educate on STIs, and allow communities to input into the program. It also improves clinical services by improving facilities and providing development and training for clinic staff. This way, the program takes a two pronged approach – addressing both the clinical as well as the behavioural/societal aspects of STIs.

In conjunction with the Australian Aid, Caritas Australia is 1 of 7 Australian agencies embarking on this five-year STI health program in PNG.

The program's focus is not just on sexual health – it also works to improve health services generally by supporting staff development and improving facilities (such as clinics and laboratories). Clare's story below, from Project Compassion 2010, illustrates how the program's broad approach works in practice.  

Clare's story

Clare lives in the remote Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG), an area rich in oil and gas. This area has a history of tribal fighting and natural disasters.

“I have been working the past three years at Det Health Centre,” said Clare. “In the mornings I do a ward round, then help the out-patients, the maternity ward, the administration and weeding the gardens. If there are emergencies I help at night too.” 

Woman with baby and child

The Catholic Church is one of the largest maternal health and early childhood service providers in PNG, particularly in regions where health services are otherwise non-existent.

Caritas Australia is playing a vital role in the PNG-Australia Sexual Health Improvement Program (PASHIP), partly funded by the Australian Government. We are helping to strengthen the Catholic and government health systems in two provinces, including staffing. And upgrading the maternity ward at Det in the Diocese of Mendi, where approximately 50 pregnant women visit each month.

“The maternity services are free here. Many of the mothers are local, but sometimes we get pregnant women travelling on the highway coming in to deliver with us. The biggest health problem is malaria – that can cause complications, especially with anaemia,” Clare explained when featured in Project Compassion 2010. 

Erosion had made the old building at Det unsafe, and lack of space and facilities present many challenges for staff to provide effective health care. “The present maternity ward is falling down,” she said. “The main problem is the lack of pre-natal services. The roof leaks, the floor is cracked, we have no proper bed and can only attend to the mothers one at a time. One woman went into the shower – her leg went through a hole and she got hurt.” 

Like all of Caritas Australia’s community development projects, support in the Southern Highlands of PNG is based on principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. “The local community is expected to give $3 per head as a contribution towards the ward. They are providing labour to prepare the ground, gather stones and so on. We have a weekly work day when the councillors arrange people to work around the Health Centre,” said Clare.  

Traditionally, women in the Det area would deliver their babies alone behind their house, a practice which sometimes presented serious dangers to both mother and child. 

When asked about her own future, Clare explained, “I would like to work in the health service, and return to do my Bachelors degree. I have only a Diploma.”

When thinking about Det’s new ward, she reflected, “We must make the new ward as comfortable as possible, as some mothers do not like to stay and they go home. When I am working with the mothers I try to be patient. I feel for them. I think how, if I did not go to school and I was a village woman, I would probably miss antenatal clinics too. I help them. I’m ready to help any time.”

Program details

  • Issues: Health; HIV/AIDS 
  • Partner Agency: Australasian Society for HIV/Medicine; National Catholic Family Life Apostolate; Dioceses of Kundiawa, Mendi, and Mt Hagan
  • Geographic location: Chimbu & Southern Highlands
  • When established: September 2007
  • This program is supported by Australian Aid