|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Pacific Aids Commission Report
Gender violence and gender inequality were the principal drivers behind the spread of AIDS throughout the Pacific region, according to a report launched today at United Nations Headquarters by the independent Commission on AIDS in the Pacific. In its first report, “Turning the Tide: An OPEN Strategy for a response to AIDS in the Pacific”, the Commission highlights the factors that are blocking the Pacific region’s response and lays out the ways in which the diverse countries could protect their societies, cultures and economies from HIV.
At a press conference today, Nafis Sadik, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for HIV/AIDS in Asia, said that while the overall number of people infected with HIV/AIDS was small, an epidemic could evolve. She added during a ceremony held earlier today to mark the report’s launch, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon referred to several important points made in the report, including the role that gender violence played in the growing number of women now plagued by the disease. Women, for example, now made up 60 per cent of the people with HIV/AIDs and young women were becoming infected more quickly than the number of young men. It showed the importance of empowering women, she said.
Other important points highlighted by the Secretary-General were the need for legislative protection for infected people, such as sex workers and men having sex with men, and expanded services for people who were at risk, such as intravenous drug users. Donors and the international community needed to work with the local community to change local attitudes and there was a need to move toward the implementation of previous recommendations. “We’ve done a lot of thinking”, she added.
A culturally diverse region spread among 14 islands, the Pacific region was the last region to report on HIV/AIDS, said Misa Telefoni, Chairman of the Commission and Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa.
“The way to attack the AIDS epidemic required a cultural sensitivity,” he said. He urged reporters to view the recommendations contained on pages 88 to 92 of the report. These were the foundation for improved delivery of AIDS services and the improvement of prevention activities. While Pacific leaders had been active on this issue and the region did not suffer the severity of the problem facing sub-Saharan Africa, he said leaders needed to be proactive to curb and subdue the epidemic.
Marie Bopp, the Chief Executive Officer of Pacific Islands AIDS Foundation (PIAF), a Commission Member and a person living with HIV, said the Pacific represents the last opportunity to spare a whole region from a high level AIDS epidemic. With the exception of Papua New Guinea, the region now had a low prevalence of AIDS. But, it had to be careful, with its large population of young children and young people under the ages of 18 to 25. “We have to think forward of what to do to spare this generation,” she said. It was necessary to consider the long term implications that HIV/AIDS had on the development of an individual, a community and a nation.
The Commission hoped to give a voice to people whom one day tested positive for AIDS. She praised the civil society members who were making a difference, working on the ground with little resources. The report recommends greater involvement of positive people and civil society in the delegations that attend meetings sponsored by the United Nations and greater legal protection for people with the disease. She also called on the international community to continue its funding.
The Commission was created in October 2007 to examine the scale of the HIV epidemic in the region. There were 29,629 reported cases of people living with HIV in the Pacific and 5,162 new HIV diagnoses reported in 2008. Cases in Papua New Guinea made up more than 99 per cent of the reported cases in 2008. In Papua New Guinea, there were 28,294 reported cases, but UNAIDS estimates that the number of people living with HIV is 54,000.
Outside of Papua New Guinea, the island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, French Polynesia and Guam accounted for the vast majority of HIV infections.
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