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HIV/AIDS Conference: An open letter from Pacific community leaders

Sat 22 Oct 2005 In: HIV

Open Letter from Pacific Community Leaders Pan Pacific Regional HIV/AIDS Conference Auckland New Zealand 25-28 October 2005 20 October 2005 Greetings, The Pan Pacific Regional HIV/AIDS Conference is an opportunity to re-examine our regional identity and reinvigorate collective action in addressing issues that concern the risk of HIV infection in our communities. Delegates to the 2004 Pacific Island Forum in Samoa pledged to confront AIDS in the Pacific with more resolve. The conference offers a platform for governments to act upon that commitment and engage society at every level in the struggle against AIDS. Thousands of years ago, our diverse people used their knowledge of the sea and stars to navigate waka/wa/wahr/vaka or canoes to these shores. Our ancestors' ingenuity not only to survive but also flourish is part of the unique heritage and traditional systems that have guided us to the present. Today, as a multi-cultural and multi-racial region, we must draw on that legacy to meet the serious challenges to development and social stability posed by AIDS. The first Pacific Island AIDS case was officially reported in 1985. Two decades on, the risk of HIV infection is significantly growing. The rising number of unwanted teenaged pregnancies, sexual assaults on girls and alarming levels of sexually transmitted infections among adolescents indicates young people are at great risk of HIV infection. Police and military personnel from Pacific countries deployed on United Nations peacekeeping and regional security operations are vulnerable to contracting HIV and spreading the virus to their loved ones upon their return home. Poverty, unemployment and inadequate education create a Pacific Diaspora as workers seek jobs away from home. Women endure domestic violence and social inequalities that diminish their ability to access information on reproductive health services and voluntary HIV testing and counselling. Tabus that prohibit an open discourse on intimate relations hinder HIV and AIDS education and prevention programmes. Men with same sex partners bear intolerance for living according to their sexuality and traditional cultures, such as Fa'afafine, that once celebrated diversity have been devalued by post-colonial influences. People living with HIV and their family members face painful stigma and discrimination rather than the support and acceptance needed to encourage the delivery of treatment and care. We have witnessed the threat of HIV from Africa to Asia to North America and must recognize that this global epidemic has reached the Pacific. Experience from other AIDS-affected regions has demonstrated that turning our backs on the social and behavioural realities linked to HIV and AIDS only fuels the risk of new infections. The time for effective action on HIV prevention is now. Governments in the region have responded by creating national AIDS bodies and bolstering public health services. This political will must be strengthened in partnership with civil society. Effective prevention is sustainable through a broad community-based response; NGOs, civic groups, traditional tribal councils, educators, and faith-based organisations all play a vital role in the response to AIDS. The Pacific Islands Chiefs of Police recently signed an initiative with the joint United Nations program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) to train personnel on HIV and AIDS awareness before they are deployed abroad. This is a welcome step towards prevention measures, but more needs to be done. Next week, in Papua New Guinea, the country most seriously affected by AIDS, regional leaders meet to deliberate the Pacific Plan as a framework of response to challenges facing Pacific island countries and a Regional Strategy on HIV and AIDS. At the same time, the historic Pan Pacific Regional HIV/AIDS Conference will convene to chart a cohesive response to AIDS. New Zealand as the conference host is symbolic as a crossroads of increasingly mobile Pacific Islanders. Decisive government action is urgently required to increase budget allocations for HIV prevention, treatment and care and capacity building in the public health and education sectors. Young people and women who are especially vulnerable to HIV require information campaigns through informal education and pre and post-natal care. Children living with HIV positive family members need special care and support. We must find a solution to the legal discrimination against non-heterosexual people. Networks can be built between communities and people living with HIV. NGOs can foster an environment of change in attitudes towards people at risk of or living with HIV. The media needs to create a more open space for the discussion of HIV and AIDS issues through ethical and accurate reporting. Community-based participation from the village to the provincial and national levels can stem the tide of new infections. AIDS is a gathering storm in the Pacific region. We need to build on our Pacific traditions and beliefs in compassion and care to protect coming generations. Let us work together - to call upon the Vanua in Fiji, clans in Nauru, to gather our Iwi tribes in Aoteaora, magafaoa Niue families and Tivaevae women's groups in the Cook Islands and fill the Maneaba meeting houses in Kiribati, including the Traditional chiefs of the Melanesian countries to guide us towards a safer future. Hon Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi Vice-President of Fiji Hon Misa Telefoni Retzlaff Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Samoa Hon Ratu Epeli Nailatikau LVO, OBE (Mil), CSM, MSD, OStJ, jssc, psc UNAIDS Special Representative for HIV/AIDS in the Pacific SPEAKER, House of Representatives Parliament of Fiji National AIDS Programme Managers of Samoa - Dr Nuualofa Tuuau Potoi, Solomon Islands - Dr George Malefoasi, Tonga - Dr Seini Kupu Fiji - Dr Lepani Waqatakirewa, Vanuatu - Miriam Abel Cook Islands - Edweena Tangaroa Kiribati - Dr Takieta Kienene, Federated States of Micronesia - Johnny Habel Niue - Anne-Marie Erick Tuvalu - Lutelu Faavae New Zealand AIDS Foundation, Rachael Le Mesurier, Executive Director Human Rights Foundation of Aotearoa New Zealand, Peter Hosking, Executive Director Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), New Zealand Family Planning Association New Zealand, Dr. Gill Greer, Executive Director Positive Women New Zealand Body Positive Inc, Auckland, New Zealand Body Positive Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand Runanga Whakapiki ake i te Hauora o Aotearoa Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand, Alison J Blaiklock, Executive Director Te Whare Whai Matauraka ki Otautahi/Christchurch College of Education, Sally Unwin, School Adviser Secondary Health Education Massey High School, New Zealand, Mary Hammonds, Head of Health Department - 22nd October 2005    

Credit: GayNZ.com

First published: Saturday, 22nd October 2005 - 12:00pm

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