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The price Papua New Guinea has to pay for Australia’s foreign aid cuts

Children at Buk bilong Pikinini (books for children). Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
Flickr: Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Australian newspaper The Age has released a powerful new video showing just what Australia is not doing with regards to looking after the health of its closest neighbours in Papua New Guinea (PNG). The video shows a family sick from HIV and tells a sad tale of death and despair as family members pass away from HIV and other illnesses. Ironically, those featured in the video are actually among the lucky ones, as they are part of a community program funded by Australian aid that provides education and antiretroviral treatment for HIV.

A refresher:What is HIV and AIDS?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus which attacks the immune system and gradually causes damage to health. This means that without treatment, a person with HIV would be at risk of developing serious infections and cancers that a healthy immune system could fight off.

AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome and is the name used to describe life-threatening serious infection and cancers that have developed when someone’s immune system has been damaged by HIV.

You can’t catch AIDS; HIV causes AIDS and it is HIV that can be passed on through blood, genital fluids and breast milk.

This program in PNG is community controlled and funds are used by the community for the community. But, this program-and many others- are being targeted by Australian aid cuts.

Australia has said that their future aid program will focus on the Indo-Pacific region with a sharper focus on their immediate neighbourhood. However, an estimated 4.9 million people were living with HIV in Australia’s so called aid priority region in 2012. So it makes no sense to cut funding to HIV/AIDS programs in the region.

And the situation is about more than just HIV. The region is facing preventable illnesses that can be attributed to living in extreme poverty. Yet, the Australian government is discussing cuts to Australia’s foreign aid budget that will ultimately hinder progress made towards ending extreme poverty by 2030.

With the exception of Cambodia, Nepal and Timor-Leste, Australian aid to countries in Asia was cut by 40%, Sub-Saharan Africa was cut by 70% and aid to the Middle East it was cut by 43%.

Even other politically conservative led countries like the UK and the UAE have increased their foreign aid.

Australia can no longer pride itself on its generous nature. Australia’s aid generosity over time has dramatically decreased resulting in dropping out of the club of top 10 OECD donors. This has resulted in possibly losing influence with some development partners in framing the global debate on development.

However you look at it, Australians are turning our backs on the world’s poor-and this is not okay. Australians cannot sit back and let the Government cut the aid budget even more than it has.

We need to embody what it means to be a global citizen and make some noise to let the Government know that Australian foreign aid cuts will not be tolerated.