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HIV/AIDS in the Pacific region

Tuesday 18 May, 2004

Pacific people are being urged to find ways to get around religious and cultural barriers to bring the subjects of sex and sexuality out into the open if they are to stem the growing tide of HIV/AIDS in the Pacific region.

New Zealand AIDS Foundation Executive Director Rachael Le Mesurier today welcomed the announcement by Health Minister Annette King of an extra $3 million to fight HIV/AIDS in the Pacific.

Ms Le Mesurier said she hoped the additional funds would go a long way to prevent what is threatening to be a major epidemic of HIV in New Zealand’s nearest neighbours, but money alone would not achieve that.

“New Zealand has much experience and expertise to share with the Pacific region in respect of helping to keep HIV infections down. We are an internationally recognised leader in the development of HIV/AIDS prevention and support programmes run by the community for the community.”

The challenge for Pacific nations seeking to avoid the devastation to young people and families that would result from a widespread HIV/AIDS epidemic, Ms Le Mesurier said, is to end the silence around sexual health and sexuality. She urged political, religious and traditional leaders to take the opportunity of the increased funds to work together, and to set the example by talking openly about HIV/AIDS, sex and sexuality and safe sex. Work was also needed to promote understanding and support of people living with HIV/AIDS.

“HIV/AIDS cannot be defeated with secrets, shame and prejudice.”

Ms Le Mesurier said the Pacific challenge on HIV was also a New Zealand challenge.

“We have large populations of Pacific Island peoples in this country and what happens in their home nations can be reflected in New Zealand. The AIDS Foundation has its own anti-HIV outreach programme for Pacific Islanders and will continue to seek ways of cooperating with local Pacific leaders to ensure appropriate HIV education messages reach all communities.”


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