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HIV/Aids threat to Pacific grows

Tuesday 18 May

HIV/Aids threat to Pacific grows

New Zealand is to contribute a further $3 million to fight HIV/Aids as the disease continues to pose a significant threat to Pacific Island countries.

Health Minister Annette King made the announcement today from Geneva, where she is attending the World Health Assembly.

Hosting a meeting of Pacific health ministers, Ms King introduced Dr Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS. Dr Piot was in New Zealand earlier in the year to show that Asia and the Pacific are now clearly on the radar screen for the United Nations to upscale its programmes on HIV/AIDS in the region. UNAIDS has to date focused its work in Africa where the disease has taken a devastating toll on young adult populations.

NZAID, the New Zealand government’s aid agency is currently involved in HIV/AIDS and reproductive health programmes in the Pacific. Current NZAID funding for these programmes is over $6 million.

The extra $3 million announced today will cover a one-off grant of $1 million to the Joint United Nations Programme for HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), $1 million to the Global Fund on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and $1 million to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to address reproductive health issues, including HIV/AIDS.

Known HIV infection rates are highest and accelerating in Papua New Guinea, where there are at least 7,000 reported cases. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates the figure is closer to 20,000.

While the rates are low in other Pacific Island countries, there are indications of sharp increases in countries like Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands reflecting a potential spread in the region.

“We need to act quickly to stem the spread of the disease in our own region. In Africa HIV/AIDS has wreaked havoc on the economically productive youth of African countries. That would be devastating for the economies of smaller Pacific Island countries,” Ms King said.

ENDS

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