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Vanuatu: Government Snubs HIV/AIDS Doco

Vanuatu;
Government Snubs HIV/AIDS Doco

PORT VILA (Pasifika Pictures/Pacific Media Watch) - A leading New Zealand documentary maker says she is shocked and saddened by the Vanuatu government's decision to pull out of the launch of a documentary about HIV/AIDS.

"It amazes me that the Vanuatu government is prepared to exploit the services of an HIV+ woman like Irene Malachai for advocacy work with little or no pay -- then try to prevent her from freely discussing her situation.

"Instead of admitting it made mistakes and using this as an opportunity to move forward so that others do not suffer in the same way as Irene, the Ministry of Health is trying to cover up the way they handled her case," said director/producer Ingrid Leary.

Leary was flown to the small Pacific nation to speak at the launch of Irene, a documentary revealing one woman's personal experience of living with HIV.

Pacific Islands Aids Foundation chief executive Maire Bopp Allport, who commissioned the documentary, also flew to Vanuatu -- only to be told just hours prior to the launch that the government had cancelled it "until further notice."

An email from the MOH Director General's office said the documentary showed the ministry in a bad light, and might prevent people from going for testing. It also questioned the consultation process in producing the documentary and suggested an updated version be made including a government perspective.

PIAF went on to organise its own launch for the same evening, which was attended by non-government organisations and local media including a television network.

“Any so-called documentary that is required to go through consultation with a government department is not a documentary, it is propaganda," Leary told media at the launch.

"Our documentary is not intended to be the definitive word on HIV in Vanuatu. It is one woman’s story, told in her own words.

"If the Government feels threatened by that, it does make one wonder what else it is trying to hide when it comes to HIV and AIDS.”

She also said it was outrageous that Irene, as the only known case of HIV, was not invited to the Ministry of Health’s official commemoration of World Aids Day last December.

Irene Malachai had worked for the MOH as a nurse anaethetist but she was forced to resign after testing positive to the HIV virus.

She and her small daughter, who is also HIV+, have received treatment from the New Caledonian government.

Leary said the events around the launch mirrored the difficulties in producing the documentary; she said both reflected the plight of an isolated woman with little community support and an arrogant and dismissive attitude of some non-elected people at senior levels of the administration.

The 26-minute documentary was made for the Pacific Islands Aids Foundation Positive Lives series, in three languages: English, French and Bislama. The other documentary, Peati, is produced in both English and Samoan, and features the first-person narrative of a Samoan woman living with the virus.

ENDS

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