First Regional TB/HIV Co-infection Meeting Opens
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC)
First Regional TB/HIV Co-infection Meeting in the Pacific Opens
Noumea, Friday 4 August- More than forty tuberculosis (TB) and HIV programme managers from Pacific Island countries and territories gathered yesterday in Noumea for the opening of the first regional meeting on TB/HIV co-infection. The two-day meeting hosted by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) is being held immediately following the Third STOP TB in the Pacific meeting which ended on Thursday.
The aim of the meeting is to coordinate action to reduce cases of TB/HIV co-infection. Where there is TB, there is the added danger of TB/HIV co-infection. HIV weakens the immune system and TB takes advantage of this weakness. TB can spread rapidly among people living with HIV and with 12,000 cases of HIV already reported in the Pacific, high rates of co-infection have the potential to affect entire communities. In fact, TB is the most common opportunistic infection in people with HIV and is a leading cause of death for people living with the virus worldwide.
Speaking at the opening of the meeting, SPC Director-General, Dr Jimmie Rodgers, said, “One of the challenges in fighting HIV is maintaining a strong commitment, especially in a region that is perceived to have a low prevalence of the disease. But even though this prevalence seems relatively low so far, all the signs point to the Pacific as being very vulnerable to a rapid spread of HIV.”
In contrast to the number of HIV cases, several Pacific countries including PNG have a very high prevalence of TB with some 20,000 people becoming sick with TB every year, although only about a quarter of these cases are detected. While some countries have good TB programmes in place and were successful in achieving the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2005 targets, “the challenge with co-infection is real and growing”.
Dr Rodgers told participants, “Today, you are making history, another ‘first’in our collective fight against TB and HIV. Each of these diseases can have devastating effects on our people, but together they are deadly. It is people like you, and our collective efforts, that can break this cycle.”
The meetings, which have been jointly organised by SPC and WHO, are also being attended by representatives from AusAID, NZAID, United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and TB laboratories in Australia and New Zealand.