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Call to end stigma and isolation

26 October 2005

Call to end stigma and isolation

At the first full day of the international Pan pacific HIV Aids conference in Auckland HIV positive people report that they are isolated and battling stigma and demanding more concerted action from political and religious leaders and Aid agencies.

Jane Bruning, of New Zealand organisation Positive Women, presented some of the themes and recommendations from a pre-conference gathering of HIV-positive people. She said the gathering called for an end to stigma and discrimination, better support and understanding for HIV positive people in the workplace and improved access to affordable treatments.

At this morning’s plenary session keynote speakers included JVR Prasada Rao, Regional Director for the UNAIDS team in the Asia/Pacific, who said the response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Pacific needed stronger leadership by national Governments, guided by evidence of what was happening with HIV in the Pacific, not by what was politically expedient.

“True leadership means accepting and acting on this and doing it in the most public and vocal way,” he said. “We have to prioritise our actions based on solid data and on the needs of those infected or affected by HIV/AIDS.”

Mr Rao said the Pacific people could not afford the overlaps, gaps and inconsistencies in programmes funded by development agencies that are due to lack of cooperation.”

Dr Jimmy Rodgers, senior deputy director-general of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) said the Pacific was in a unique position to stop the HIV virus.

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“Today we want to make another claim for the Pacific,” he told the conference. “We want it to be the region where regional cooperation has delivered results and the spread of HIV is halted and reversed. Is it possible? The answer is a resounding yes. This conference is evidence of the increasing appetite in the region to combat HIV/AIDS.”

Dr Rodgers said to achieve this aim required committed leadership and respect, care and access to affordable treatment for people living with the virus.

The status of minority communities subject to legal, official and social discrimination was also raised by Carlos Perera, from Fiji’s Sexual Minorities project. Mr Perera talked about the stigma faced by gay men in Fiji and how this produced self-harm behaviours that increased their vulnerability to HIV. He identified religious intolerance in Fiji as the main perpetrators of this climate of homophobia.

The conference, which has attracted nearly 500 delegates from throughout the Pacific, opened on Tuesday evening with a welcome and Powhiri at Orakei Marae in Auckland, and continues tomorrow (Thursday) and Friday at the Edge conference centre in Auckland’s Aotea Square.


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