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HIV bigger threat than ever before

Press release: 19 October 2005

HIV bigger threat than ever before

HIV in New Zealand and neighbouring Pacific regions is a bigger threat now than ever before says UNAIDS and the New Zealand AIDS Foundation on the eve of New Zealand’s first large-scale international conference on HIV and AIDS.

The Te whânau of te Moana-Nui-A-Kiwa, Me te Mate Parekore – Family of the Pacific and HIV/AIDS Pan Pacific Regional HIV/AIDS Conference will take place in Auckland from October 25 to 28.

More than 450 delegates will attend the conference, including international scientists, researchers, community activists, traditional and religious leaders, youth groups and health promoters, along with Pacific region leaders, and people living with HIV from throughout the region. The conference will feature a strong indigenous voice and, for many the first time, create a safe place for Pacific people living with HIV/AIDS to speak out about the epidemic, how it is affecting them, their families and their countries.

“This is the first time an international HIV and AIDS conference has concentrated on the Pacific region,” says NZAF Executive Director Rachael Le Mesurier, “and it could not have come at a better time. It will be a clarion call to political, community, traditional and church leaders throughout the Pacific to unite in the fight against this most deadly of epidemics which is threatening us all.”

Ms Le Mesurier says HIV has been described as a “storm gathering off shore” in the South Pacific that is about to burst on Pacific communities in a devastating way, as it already has in Papua New Guinea, unless prevention and support programmes are strengthened and receive greater leadership at all levels.

Her call has been supported by Prasada Rao, Regional Director for UNAIDS Asia Pacific, who says: “The global HIV epidemic has no boundaries. Pacific Island countries face an urgent challenge to prevent new infections and reinforce HIV and AIDS education programs to protect this unique region from the ‘waves of this storm’. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) will continue to engage government and civil society partners to work towards this goal.”

In New Zealand, there are more people living with HIV than ever before and suggestions that, if current trends continue, 2005 could be a record year for new infections.

The key themes at this conference will be: To challenge people out of complacency and silence around HIV; to challenge homophobia and criminalisation of homosexuality and sex workers that fosters the spread of HIV by marginalizing some communities; to encourage churches to take leadership roles in combating HIV that are non-judgemental and show a commitment to honesty and integrity when working with the realities of sexual practices in our societies; and to emphasise that New Zealand is part of the Pacific.

“We are a family,” Ms Le Mesurier says, “and need to work together as a family as HIV affects us all – socially, economically and politically.”


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