AIDS sufferer overcomes the impossible
Picture caption: From left, Janet*, a child living with HIV/AIDS in PNG, is examined by Dr Nyree O’Connor from Australia.
Janet*, aged 10, lives with HIV/AIDS. She received antibiotic treatment from YWAM Medical Ships – Australia (YWAM MSA) who were visiting her village, in a remote part of Oro Province, Papua New Guinea (PNG).
While the antibiotic treatments will help with the skin infections caused by AIDS, it will not treat the underlying disease. The struggle to deliver anti-retroviral therapy (treatment for HIV/AIDS) to remote, rural communities in PNG makes it difficult for those affected to receive the necessary treatment.
“Once you become infected with the HIV virus, it lives in your body, and slowly your immune system becomes weaker and weaker,” explains Dr Nyree O’Connor.
“Your immune system becomes depleted, and infections start appearing. This is when it becomes AIDS,” she says.
There is also limited access to HIV counselling and testing in these remote places in PNG, which means it is often too late before the infection is discovered – that is, the person may already have developed AIDS. The great news is, that with the right treatments, HIV can be prevented from developing in to AIDS.
“There is hope for people living with HIV infection. They can live quite healthy lives if treated,” says Dr O’Connor.
However, because of the costs associated with travelling from remote communities, many people are unable to make the journey to larger centres in order to receive treatment.
Unchecked, the disease can have a devastating impact on families and whole communities. Sadly, Janet has lost both her parents to the disease, and is now cared for by her courageous grandmother Cheodora.
“People make jokes at her [Janet],” explains Cheodora.
“Her father used to help care for her, but he died, and now it’s just me,” she says.
According to UNAIDS, in 2013 there were approximately 15,000 children aged 0 to 17 who had been orphaned due to AIDS in PNG.
This is not the first time that YWAM has connected with Janet and her family. When volunteer nurse Naomi visited the village four months ago, she found Janet unable to walk and barely able to breathe. She was able to provide some acute treatment and educational support to the community.
“Honestly, I was surprised to see Janet alive on this trip,” Naomi says.
“Now she is smiling and walking…she is overcoming the impossible.”
YWAM MSA is always looking for more volunteers; medical, ship crew, media and general volunteers. To apply for an outreach, visit www.ywamships.org.au
*Name adjusted for privacy. Consent given for article.