HIV outbreak fueling witch hunts in Papua New Guinea

TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP Papua New Guinea, a small group of islands east of Indonesia, is home to some of the most isolated communities on the planet. Its dense jungles and impassable mountains, however, have not been able to shield its people from one of the outside world’s worst scourges: HIV. The World Health Organization estimates that ...

604083_papua_new_guinea_05.jpg
604083_papua_new_guinea_05.jpg

TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP

Papua New Guinea, a small group of islands east of Indonesia, is home to some of the most isolated communities on the planet. Its dense jungles and impassable mountains, however, have not been able to shield its people from one of the outside world's worst scourges: HIV. The World Health Organization estimates that as many as 1 million people, more than one-fifth of all Papua New Guineans, may be infected with the AIDS virus by 2015.

The epidemic is already exacerbating the inevitable clashes between traditional and modern in the tiny country. AIDS deaths are often attributed to witchcraft and  followed by brutal retribution against those deemed responsible (usually women). The government is trying to devise a comprehensive approach to the disease, but it will have to contend with deep-grained beliefs, like this matter-of-fact justification by a farmer who killed his neighbors:

TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP

Papua New Guinea, a small group of islands east of Indonesia, is home to some of the most isolated communities on the planet. Its dense jungles and impassable mountains, however, have not been able to shield its people from one of the outside world’s worst scourges: HIV. The World Health Organization estimates that as many as 1 million people, more than one-fifth of all Papua New Guineans, may be infected with the AIDS virus by 2015.

The epidemic is already exacerbating the inevitable clashes between traditional and modern in the tiny country. AIDS deaths are often attributed to witchcraft and  followed by brutal retribution against those deemed responsible (usually women). The government is trying to devise a comprehensive approach to the disease, but it will have to contend with deep-grained beliefs, like this matter-of-fact justification by a farmer who killed his neighbors:

We ran after them and we chopped their heads off with an axe and a bush knife. I felt sorry for them but they were witches, they deserved to die. If they were still alive they could hurt people with their magic.

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