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AIDS Candlelight Memorial 2005 Announced

Turning Remembrance into Action International AIDS Candlelight Memorial 2005

New Zealanders who think HIV/AIDS is not their issue should be prepared to accept devastation of families, a massive increase in HIV among youth, more children born with the virus and severe impacts on economic prosperity, says the New Zealand AIDS Foundation on the eve of the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial.

The International AIDS Candlelight Memorial on May 15 is to honour the memory of those who have died of AIDS, show support for those living with or affected by the virus and to mobilise community involvement in the fight against the spreads of HIV.

Says Rachael Le Mesurier NZAF Executive Director: “United Nations Secretary Kofi Annan said recently that we must make people everywhere understand that the AIDS crisis is not over, that it is a threat to an entire generation, to an entire civilization. New Zealanders need to realise he was talking about us as much as he was talking about places like Africa.

Ms Le Mesurier said there is a very real risk that the devastation of HIV in Third World countries could be repeated in Aotearoa New Zealand unless there is continued vigilance and improved community buy-in to HIV prevention. “Just look at our chlamydia infections and replace those with HIV – they are both transmitted the same way.”

“While there are better medical treatment options available here, living with HIV can still have a devastating effect on the lives of people with the virus and their families, not the least being a shortened life expectancy and the daily trauma of having to take what some term a “toxic cocktail” of drugs to try to slow the progression of the virus down.

“Consider these facts: People are still dying of AIDS in New Zealand. Last year there were four AIDS-related deaths. This means at least 4 families are deeply affected by the loss of a loved one and reminds us of the poignant theme from UNAIDS for the Candlelight ceremony – ‘Turning Remembrance into Action’ Last year in New Zealand a record 157 people learnt they were HIV positive, that’s about three a week! In 2003 and 2004 new diagnoses for heterosexually acquired and homosexually acquired HIV were in roughly equal numbers. In both 2003 and 2004 six children were diagnosed with HIV in New Zealand the highest number ever. There are now about 1400 people who know they are living with HIV in New Zealand, that’s more than ever before in the history of HIV/AIDS in New Zealand. On top of the 1400, it is estimated that about one third more people living with HIV in New Zealand don’t know they have it and therefore aren’t appearing in the epidemiological figures. People can’t rely on their sexual partners to say if they have HIV if they don’t know they have it! This means that anyone who chooses to have unsafe sex in New Zealand now, has more chance than ever before of being exposed to HIV. Having an existing sexually transmitted disease makes it some ten times easier to contract HIV. New Zealand has some of the highest rates of STIs among its young people in the Western world.

“The Foundation is working with a wide range of community and health groups to try to stem the spread of HIV in New Zealand. Compared with other countries with similar epidemics we have had remarkable success; New Zealand’s per capita rate of HIV infection is one of the lowest in the world.

“But the current rate of new infections suggests our communities cannot afford to sit back and say ‘haven’t we done well!’ The slightest relaxing of effort has the potential to allow this virus to explode through our sexually active communities in dramatic numbers. That would have a terrible impact on our society, as those most affected would be rangatahi/young people, young working adults, and those who would normally be having families. This is not just a social or medical issue, it is an issue of vital economic importance.”

Ms Le Mesurier said that while the social and epidemiological issues surrounding HIV were becoming increasingly complex, the way the virus spread was unchanged and, therefore, the prevention message was unchanged.
“Our most effective weapon has always been, and will continue to be, properly used condoms for vaginal or anal intercourse, alongside the continuation of our internationally respected needle exchange system for injecting drug users.

“We will do ourselves a disservice, and put whole future generations at risk, if we do not continue to talk openly about sex and sexuality; if we fail to promote responsibility for self and for others; and if we shy away from providing accurate and comprehensive information to our young people.”

For media inquiries contact: Steve Attwood NZAF Communications Coordinator Ph (03) 379-1953 Cell (027) 419-1080 Email AIDS Candlelight Memorial services will be held at: Auckland: 7pm. St Mathews in the City. Contact person, Wayne Otter: (09) 309 5560

Hamilton: 7pm. Celebrating of Age Centre 30 Victoria Street. Contact person, Robin Cresswell: (07) 838 3557

Tauranga: 7pm. Memorial Park.Contact person, Marlene Ware: (07) 579 8460

Wellington: 6:30pm. St Andrews on The Terrace. Contact person, Debbie Langley: (04) 381 6640

Dunedin: 7pm. St Pauls. Contact person Lisa Te Pana: (03) 477 6988

Christchurch: 7pm.The Great Hall, Arts Centre, cnr Worcester Boulevard & Rolleston Ave. Contact person, Robin Furley: (03) 379 1953

Invercargill: 6pm.Bluff Hill, Contact person, Shona Fordyce: (03) 214 5768

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