The Australian government aid group AusAid has granted AU$25 million (US$26.4 million) in funding to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS in Papua province, the Indonesian health minister said yesterday. “The money … is allocated for the procurement of infrastructure and the improvement of people’s awareness,” Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi told ucanews.com by phone from Jayapura, capital of Papua. Mboi was in the provincial capital to inaugurate a new laboratory and center for the prevention of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The central and local governments, she said, are focusing on building infrastructure to give better service to many HIV/AIDS patients who have not received proper treatment by medical workers. Apart from infrastructure, the government also offers awareness programs in 90 public health clinics and 50 hospitals in the province, which has twice the number of HIV/AIDs cases as the national average. “This is part of our effort to improve access to HIV/AIDS services and the quality of our services,” Mboi said. “In comparison to the national prevalence level, which is 0.1 percent, Papua stands high at 2.4 percent, which means the number of HIV/AIDS patients increases sharply every year,” Mboi said, adding that unprotected sexual intercourse is the main cause of HIV/AIDS transmission. According to Health Ministry data, Papua had 8,000 cases of HIV and 4,669 cases of AIDS as of March this year, which ranked Papua third after Jakarta and East Java. However, Mboi said the number could be higher because many with HIV/AIDS are unregistered and living in remote areas. She also urged religious and local leaders in Papua to be more involved in HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. “It is hoped that their involvement can make this effort more effective,” she said. Mboi said increased condom use could have a dramatic effect in preventing the spread of HIV. AusAid’s Mat Kimberley said the Australian government has similar concerns over preventing the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted illnesses. “This program will also help people get medical checkups and treatment, particularly for tuberculosis and other diseases transmitted through sexual intercourse,” Kimberley was quoted as saying by VIVAnews.com.