Papua New Guinea: A comprehensive response to family and sexual violence is critical

ALT Kate Geraghty/FairfaxA patient in the MSF Family Support Centre in Tari. She was one of 64 people attending her daughters funeral when she was attacked with a bush knife and iron bar.

Port Moresby, 25 November 2013 – Family and sexual violence (FSV) is a medical-humanitarian emergency with serious consequences for survivors, at individual and also family level. Its effects go far beyond domestic borders and affect public health at national level.

Survivors need access to free, quality, confidential, integrated medical care, as well as high quality social protection and law and justice services. These issues were discussed in Papua New Guinea (PNG), during a conference co-hosted by Médecins Sans Frontières ahead of the ‘International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women’ on 25 November (also known as White Ribbon Day).

Rates of FSV in PNG are among the world’s highest, with a recent UN Partners for Prevention study finding that one in five women’s first experience of sex was rape, and that one-third of men had been sexually abused as children. Child survivors of FSV are even more vulnerable and have higher needs, yet have particular difficulty accessing services.

Rapid and comprehensive response

Paul Brockmann, head of mission for MSF PNG said a rapid medical response can prevent life-threatening medical consequences, but survivors also need a comprehensive response, including access to high quality social protection and law and justice services.

“Access to integrated medical care is critical and it needs to be scaled up: for example with one functioning Family Support Centre in each province,” he said. “The barriers that exist to service provision must be overcome and the provincial action plans we have developed at this conference provide a practical road map to doing this.”

A critical outcome, which will improve this service provision, was the commitment from the National Department of Health to establish Family Support Centres in all hospitals across the country.

MSF began treating PNG survivors of FSV in December 2007, and since then have provided more than 18,000 survivors with emergency medical and psychosocial care in Lae, Tari and Port Moresby. MSF and partner organisations have also trained clinical staff from 28 hospitals across PNG on how to establish and run much-needed medical emergency services for survivors.

A real step forward

The conference – co-hosted by MSF together with the Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee and the PNG National Department of Health – brought together actors from medical, legal and social institutions to develop action plans to improve service provision to survivors.

Ume Wainetti, National Coordinator at the Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee and chair of the conference, said the conference was groundbreaking in its collaborative approach.

“The action plans that we have developed today are a real step forward and an unprecedented recognition of the urgency of responding to this crisis.”

Core participants at the conference were service providers from 11 provinces together with international and national leaders including the Secretary for Justice and Attorney General Dr Lawrence Kalinoe, European Union Ambassador Martin Dihm and Australian High Commissioner Deborah Stokes.