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HIV/AIDS: Pacific put aside prejudices act now

Joint Fiji Ministry of Health/SPC Press Release

Put aside prejudices and act now for future generations

Tuesday 3 October 2006- A special HIV Campaign for the Melanesian Arts Festival was launched yesterday in Suva with a reminder from Fiji’s Vice-President, Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, that an entire generation of people has died of AIDS-related diseases in other parts of the world and the same could happen in Melanesian countries.

“Youth are our future. If we as leaders, whether traditional, religious or political, wish to leave them the great legacy we celebrate at this festival, we must be more open and receptive about what HIV/AIDS is and the measures needed to overcome it,” said Vice-President Ratu Madraiwiwi in a message read out by an HIV peer educator.

“The question is whether we love our youth enough to put aside our own prejudices, so we can ensure they are better equipped to deal with HIV/AIDS and live.”

“Culture and tradition are important and vibrant influences in the lives of Pacific people. It is a heritage of which we are justly proud. Now some of our customary sensitivities concerning sexual conduct, reinforced by religious teachings, are resisting initiatives to combat the advance of HIV/AIDS. These taboos are often entrenched and deeply felt. However, people’s lives are at stake. We must act to prevent the tragedies that HIV/AIDS leaves in our midst.”

The Vice-President’s message echoed remarks made at the launch by Dr Jimmie Rodgers, Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

“If our cultures are to live in the future, if our traditions are to continue, then our duty today is to leave behind a legacy, even if that means having to make sacrifices,” said Dr Rodgers.

He stressed that survival depends on making individual choices and then acting on them, regardless of religion. This means that cultures evolve, but changes in cultures are proof that “as human beings we are the ones who can make the right choices to go forward.”

On the eve of the opening ceremony of the Melanesian Arts Festival, Dr Rodgers also noted that in the Pacific region, the threat of HIV is greatest in Melanesian countries, with a generalised epidemic already taking hold in Papua New Guinea. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 60 000 people are living with HIV in PNG.

Twenty trained Fijian HIV peer educators will be on site at the festival to talk to participants on a one-to-one basis about HIV and safe sex issues. They will also be promoting voluntary confidential counselling and testing.

The HIV campaign is being organised by SPC’s Cultural Development Bureau and HIV & STI Section in collaboration with Fiji’s Ministry of Health. The campaign will run throughout the festival, from 3 to 11 October.

ends

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