TV & Radio
HIV in the Pacific
A united effort is needed to combat HIV/AIDS in the region
writes JEANETTE MISIRAIT (The National, Papua New Guinea 2005/12/06)
The Pan Pacific Regional HIV/AIDS Conference 2005 was held at the Auckland Convention Centre, The Edge, which is Auckland’s biggest theatre and performing arts centre.
Over 500 people from the Pacific including Australia and New Zealand attended the four-day conference.
Information was shared by various countries about their projects and programs, the lessons learned, research and studies, personal testimonies and current and future events, funds and medicine to treat and combat the spread of HIV/AIDS in the region.
More than 50 Papua New Guineans from various NGOs and Government department and medical practitioners attended the conference including some Papua New Guineans living with HIV/AIDS.
Ms. Lista Wayo, Youth Project officer from PNG Family Health Association (PNGFHA) and I were among the delegates.
New Zealand has about four million people living on 268,000 square kilometers, a land area similar to that of Japan.
PNG has a bigger land area of approximately 463,840 square kilometers supporting a larger population of 5.2 million. New Zealand is a beautiful green and cool country with friendly people of many different cultural backgrounds.
The Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, are the minority in their own land. They make up only 14% of the total population but fiercely hold on to their culture and traditions.
Compared to PNG New Zealand is not so much affected by HIV/AIDS but rather by Chlamydia (a sexually transmitted infection).
A lot was said about the HIV/AIDS situation of the country and what was being done in terms of prevention and care. A lot of people at the conference were shocked at the current state of the epidemic in PNG.
It was mentioned that the epidemic could destroy the whole nation and its cultures if prevention efforts were not effective and that HIV could cause the development achievements of the past 30 years to drain or waste away.
It was shown that most of the new infections in the Pacific region were in women and young girls but that a lot of people still have the idea that gay men and intravenous drug users are the main carriers and transmitters.
The issue of gay rights surfaced from the very first day. Gay men suffer a lot of discrimination and stigmatization and are politically targeted even in New Zealand where the gay society has a powerful support because a lot of businessmen and politicians are gay.
New Zealand had the world’s first transgender politician, Ms Georgina Beyer, who was one of the plenary presenters on the final day of the conference.
Carlos Perera, a gay Fijian, described his childhood and how he developed a taste for feminine fashion and makeup. He also described the difficulties and hardships he had to face and how he overcame them in a tough Melanesian society.
Another testimony was of Irene Malachi, a HIV positive person from Vanuatu. Her three-year old daughter who is also affected was there too.
Irene was forced to resign from her job when the Government of Vanuatu publicly announced her HIV status in 2002.
Accessing ARV was difficult and expensive as she had to fly from Kiribati and back with her daughter on their own expense. She endured immense emotional mental and physical trauma.
By the end of the conference the PLWHA came up with a list of things they would like to have done for them to support them in prevention and care. They include access to voluntary confidential testing and counseling and access to fully funded anti-retroviral medication, and treatment for opportunistic infections.
Stephen Kent (Head of the HIV Vaccine Research Laboratory at the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Melbourne) stated that there is new research in technology for HIV prevention.