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HIV education of Pacific peoples

November 8 2004

Love Life – a New Zealand first for HIV education of Pacific peoples

Prominent Pacific entertainers, sports people, and community leaders have joined forces with the New Zealand AIDS Foundation to produce a unique education resource aimed at reducing the spread of HIV among Pacific peoples.

To be launched on November 19 by the Foundation’s “Pacific People’s Project” in association with AuckPac, an Auckland Pacific-led PHO, the “Love Life” Calendar for 2005 features such well known Pacific faces as singer Annie Crummer, entertainers and “Bro Town” writers The Naked Samoans, and Silver Fern Linda Vagana.

Edward Cowley spokesperson for the Foundation (who features in the calendar as Buckwheat) says the 2005 “Love Life” Calendar has been designed as a non-threatening way to bring discussion of HIV/AIDS in Pacific communities out into the open, with information that is factual and not based on prejudice or shame.

“In New Zealand,” Cowley says, “the majority of Pacific people with HIV are men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM). A second aim of the calendar is to help reduce prejudice and misunderstanding of sexuality issues because safer, more inclusive environments also promote safer sexual behaviour. We need to fight against HIV not those living with HIV.”

But while MSM represent the greatest pool of HIV among Pacific people in New Zealand, in neighbouring Pacific nations the opposite is true.

“HIV is increasing at an alarming rate in the Pacific and the majority of these cases are heterosexually transmitted.”

Raymond Taoa, a Pacific gay man who is HIV positive, and one of the people featured in the calendar, says one of the problems with discussing HIV prevention in Pacific communities is what some perceive as a cultural reluctance to openly discuss issues of sex and sexuality, but that it was time for silence around these issues to end.

“Supposed cultural sensibilities, especially about sex, are a weak and outdated argument, particularly as HIV is an incurable, yet preventable, disease. Our cultures and ways of life are important, but we, the people, are far more important, our lives and our wellbeing are essential. Nothing must stop Pacific people from taking the necessary care to protect ourselves.”

Taoa says he supports the “Love Life” calendar because he feels it is important to put a public face on HIV in the Pacific that others can identify with.

“The calendar’s design is specifically tailored to attract the attention of Pacific people and help them realise that messages about HIV and AIDS apply to them. It is vitally important that Pacific peoples take effective responsibility to prevent the spread of HIV in our own islands.”

The Pacific region is estimated to have in excess of 10,147 people with HIV (including 7320 in Papua New Guinea) and, in some countries, the numbers are climbing rapidly.

In New Zealand, in the period from 1996 to the end of 2003, 31 people of Pacific ethnicity were diagnosed with HIV, with equal proportions reporting that their place of infection was overseas or that the infection had occurred within New Zealand. Half (53%) of the people of Pacific ethnicity who were infected with HIV within New Zealand were infected through sex between men and 20% through heterosexual contact. Of those who were diagnosed with HIV in New Zealand but infected overseas, two thirds (66.7%) were infected heterosexually and only 13% infected through sex between men.
The “Love Life” calendar will be launched at the TVNZ Atrium on November 19. It will be available from the New Zealand AIDS Foundation.

The famous Pacific faces featured are: Annie Crummer renowned singer-song writer-entertainer; Buckwheat, international drag artist; Sofia Tekela-Smith, Pacific artist; Linda Vagana, former Silver Fern netballer; Ida Malosi, first female Pacific Judge; Raymond Taoa, HIV+ Samoan gay male; Geoff Rua’ine, HIV health educator; Lisa Taouma, TV presenter for Tagata Pasefika; Nagire Cowly, researcher for Tagata Pasefika; Sandra Kailahi, TV presenter for Tagata Pasefika and Pacific radio host for Niu FM; Naked Samoans (and Bro-town creators) Robbie Magasiva, Mario Gaoa, Oscar Kightley, Dave Fane, and Shimpal Lelisi; Lindah Le Pou, fashion designer, singer-songwriter and performer; Maryjane Mckibbon-Schwenke, Miss South Pacific 1997 and 531 PI Radio coordinator; and Neil Ieremia, director/choreographer of Black Grace Dance Company.


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