Safe water for people living with HIV and AIDS

The Oxfam Water for Survival Programme is working with local partner ATprojects to provide safe water for people living with HIV and AIDS and their carers.

ATprojects, Oxfam’s partner in rural PNG, testing a canvas rainwater catchment. This will provide a source of clean water for people living with HIV and AIDS who find it impossible to travel the long distances needed to collect it.

The HIV and AIDS epidemic in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is the worst in the Pacific. PNG now has the highest prevalence rate outside of Africa. In general, there is very little knowledge of the disease and how it spreads. People tend to be diagnosed late into their illness, very few receive any treatment and there is a great deal of fear and stigma associated with the disease.

Access to safe water is important for healthy people; but for people living with HIV and AIDS it can be a matter of life or death. Having a reliable source of water nearby is particularly critical, as diarrhoea is one of the most serious problems sufferers face. They are often too weak to walk long distances to collect water from streams, and so usually it falls to women in the family to help – women who are reluctant to add to an already exhausting workload.

Water makes a difference

The Oxfam Water for Survival Programme is working with local partner ATprojects to provide safe water for people living with HIV and AIDS and their carers. Outreach staff from ATprojects have seen the dramatic difference in overall health and well-being of people living with HIV and AIDS when they have sufficient water for drinking, cooking, bathing and washing their clothes.

ATprojects is producing an affordable canvas rainwater catchment with a built-in tank that will provide 10 to 12 litres of clean water every day – enough to drink and take a shower every couple of days. The water catchments are given to people living with HIV and AIDS along with a ‘living with dignity’ washing kit.

Outreach staff are giving training on how to use the catchment and the kits. They also talk to families and the community about HIV and AIDS, hoping to break down the fear and stigma surrounding the illness.

ATprojects has also established a pilot support centre based in a rural community where people can receive care and counselling. Staff spend time talking with families and the community about the virus, how it is passed on and how it can be prevented.

As ATprojects’ Director Miriam Layton explains: “The key is to treat HIV as a normal issue so it is not taboo. The aim is for people to feel comfortable enough to make it 'daily talk'. In PNG culture there are a lot of ways of talking – the message needs to be clear. The words can be shocking at first, but people get used to them.”