An AIDs summit has warned that Papua New Guinea (PNG) faces an HIV epidemic in the next 20 years unless action is taken to fight the disease.

Speaking at PNG’s first national summit on HIV prevention, Australia’s representative for HIV/AIDS Annmaree O’Keeffe predicted that half a million people could be infected over the next two decades.

Ms O’Keefe suggested a high-intervention strategy to see the infection level drop to around 200,000 people. The country’s Prime Minister Michael Somare said his country people must change their negative attitudes about HIV/AIDS.

He said: “The epidemic has entrenched itself with infections now in all provinces and especially among our youthful population in their productive years.”

Young women, between the ages of 15 and 29, are twice as likely to be infected than young men of the same age range. Dr Jacqueline Badcock of the United Nations Development Programme told The Advertiser, “Maybe we have the potential to lose the women of Papua New Guinea if we do not take drastic steps to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.”

An AIDS research group also found that half of the new infections were caused by gay sex. Foundation executive director Rachael Le Mesurier said the group is concerned that the rise in gay infections is due to men choosing not to wear condoms.