PALAU
 

Statement

of

Her Excellency Sandra Sumang Pierantozzi
Vice President and Minister of Health

Republic of Palau

On the Occasion of the United Nations General Assembly

Special Session on HIV/AIDS,

June 25 to 27, 2001


 
 

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

As all of you may know, the Republic of Palau is one of the newest members of the United Nations, having only joined the United Nations in 1994 shortly after Palau achieved its independence on October 1, 1994. The Republic of Palau is an archipelago consisting of over 200 small islands in the western Pacific. It is another tropical paradise in the Pacific Ocean.

Idyllic as this may sound in this seemingly beautiful, carefree paradise, there is trouble. Palau is not immune from the scourge of HIV/AIDS; the disease respects no boundaries and has also been imported to our shores. Statistically, Palau has lost two of its citizens to AIDS with another three confirmed infected with HIV. While these figures appear low and insignificant compared to statistics from other countries, and in fact, statistics from the Pacific region show still low incidences of HIV/AIDS, when such statistics are taken in light of our small populations, the impact is enormous for us. For Palau's population of only 20,000, the impact is tremendous. Given our small and slow population growth, Palau can ill afford to lose any more of its citizens to HIV/AIDS; the HIV/AIDS threat is very real to us, because if left unchecked, could decimate our entire community in no time at all.

Like many remote islands in the vast Pacific Ocean, Palau has limited natural resources and therefore relies heavily on assistance from off shore sources. Our number one industry is tourism. While this industry brings in needed revenues, it also brings unwanted extra baggage that puts our people at risk. Our people's propensity to travel abroad and return is another revolving door adding to this risk.

From our standpoint, the best way to effectively combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic is through massive public education on prevention through safe sex. This is especially critical among young people who are active socially and migrate around freely and are most at risk. Our efforts at public education is often hampered with cultural barriers and limited resources.

In the last few months, a young HIV infected mother gave birth to a healthy baby. With the wonders of medical technology and protocol, our hospital was able to follow closely such protocol where the mother's identity was kept confidential and the proper procedures were followed for delivery. I am pleased to report that early testing has shown the new infant to be HIV free. The new mother is doing well, her husband has also tested negative, and with counseling, their family life has continued uninterrupted. This is a milestone in our medical history, but there is no guarantee that it can be repeated successfully.

While we strive to maintain confidentiality when appropriate, we would urge for efforts aimed at removing the stigma and isolation associated with HIV/AIDS so that those infected may come forth without fear of ostracism. This is particularly important where an informed public could avoid further spread of the disease by those intent on passing it around. One young man infected with HIV has courageously come forth, been accepted by the community, and is a powerful living testimony to the dangers of this disease.

Last but certainly not the least, I would like to say something about women with relation to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It is noted that women and girls, especially, bear a disproportionate share of the HIV/AIDS burden, but that women are central to prevention and treatment plans as well as to finding sustainable solutions to this pandemic. Having noted this, I wish to appeal that we ensure gender equality in strategies to address HIV/AIDS, that the disease be recognized as gender-blind and therefore requires the attention of both men and women equally, and that women be not tasked alone with.the responsibility for this humankind affliction.

The Republic of Palau is privileged and honored to be part of this global effort to
seek solutions to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. We too
recognize and appreciate the Secretary General's and everyone else's commitment to
fighting this disease. We recognize the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS in many
large countries, but wish again to emphasize that even our small countries are
affected, too, by HIV/AIDS. We all must assure that small countries, such as my
country, with limited ability to fight HIV/AIDS, are not left out in the total picture.
The Republic of Palau is fully committed to these efforts to seek solutions within our
lifetime.

Thank you.