May 23, 2011

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a resource-rich land that won independence from its southern neighbor, Australia, in 1975 but has lagged in terms of development. The population is made up of several hundred ethnic groups that speak different dialects. Poverty is widespread, and PNG has the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the Pacific region. It has also long been plagued by high rates of crime and extremely high rates of domestic violence and violence against women. Seventy percent of women in PNG say they’ve been physically abused by their husbands, according to the PNG Law Reform Commission, and in some parts of the country that number reaches 100 percent.

MSF runs the Family Support Center, a clinic for the treatment of victims of domestic and sexual violence, in the regional hospital in the town of Lae and a similar program in the inland city of Tari. They are the only two facilities of their kind in PNG. Both provide medical exams, treatment, and counseling.


Papau New Guinea 2010 © Fiona Morris/MSF

Patients in the triage area of MSF’s Family Support Center at the regional hospital in Tari. The PNG government has said it would replicate MSF’s model in other parts of the country.


Papau New Guinea 2010 © Fiona Morris/MSF

A member of the MSF staff at the reception desk of the MSF Family Support Center in Lae. MSF has treated more than 6,000 survivors of domestic or sexual violence since it opened the center in November 2007.


Papau New Guinea 2010 © Fiona Morris/MSF

A survivor of sexual violence receives drugs to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Rape survivors are also tested for and given post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV. They receive wound care and vaccinations and are offered emergency contraception and mental health counseling. The project also supports women and children taking legal action against their attackers or seeking protection from them.


Papau New Guinea 2010 © Fiona Morris/MSF

A survivor of domestic violence is treated by MSF medical staff in Tari. Frederic Sanchez, MSF’s operational advisor for PNG, said that the roots of violence in PNG are deep and have various components, from women’s place in society to alcohol abuse, from the complicated coexistence of tribal law and the democratic government’s law to the rapid rate of development.


Papau New Guinea 2010 © Fiona Morris/MSF

An MSF doctor examines a victim of domestic violence at the center in Lae.


Papau New Guinea 2010 © Fiona Morris/MSF

An MSF outreach worker talks to students at Milford Haven Primary School in Lae. MSF staff saw an average of 45 new sexual violence victims every month last year in its facilities, but this likely represents only a fraction of the needs. Outreach teams spread the word that treatment programs exist and talk about the dynamics and impact of domestic and sexual violence.

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