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Pacific nations face major HIV/AIDS crisis

Public Health Conference 2004
Christchurch, June 30-July 1

Thursday, July 01, 2004

News Release

Pacific nations face major HIV/AIDS crisis

Pacific nations face an impending HIV/AIDS epidemic with rapidly increasing numbers of cases, according to the health advisor for NZAID Dr Helen Leslie.

Dr Leslie told the Public Health Association Conference in Christchurch that since the first known case of HIV/AIDS was reported in the Pacific in 1982, the total number of known HIV cases has risen to over 10,000. But it is expected that the actual number of cases is much higher.

Papua New Guinea has the highest recorded incidence in the region, and is already experiencing an epidemic, with 8000 reported cases, Dr Leslie says. Infection rates are also high and on the increase in parts of Micronesia and French Polynesia, with women as well as men having high rates of the infection.

'This crisis threatens many of the recent social, health and economic gains made by many Pacific nations.'

Dr Leslie said some Pacific government, traditional and church leaders have publicly called for more action to stem the spread of HIV/AIDs but widespread denial, misinformation and stigma are a barrier to effective prevention.

Public Health Association spokesperson Dr George Salmond says HIV/AIDs, as well as high rates of obesity and diabetes, means New Zealand should give more aid to the Pacific, support training of health workers and the development of community-based programmes.

'At the moment, the New Zealand government's development contribution is low and spread widely across the Pacific.'

In light of high diabetes rates in the Pacific, the government should review the export of hazardous products, such as tobacco, fatty foods and alcohol, Dr Salmond says.

He notes Pacific countries can pose health risks to New Zealand through diseases imported from the Pacific or at risk of being established here.

[ends]


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