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Male attitudes need to change to stop HIV spread

Male attitudes need to change to stop spread of HIV, says World Vision CEO

Male attitudes towards women need to change if we're to reduce the spread of HIV and AIDS in the Pacific. That's the strong message World Vision CEO Lisa Cescon will bring to Wellington when she meets with MPs, the Governor General and the Prime Minister this week.

"We have a window of hope in the Pacific, an opportunity now to stop HIV becoming generalised in the population. We know we need better nutrition and healthcare for people with HIV. We know we need anti-retrovirals, and the people and the infrastructure to distribute these. All of these take resources and time," says Miss Cescon.

"But what we really need now to prevent this epidemic becoming generalised throughout the whole Pacific Region is strong leadership and clear prevention messages. What we can do right now is help change attitudes, especially the attitudes of men towards women in Pacific nations, and we need leadership from the top to help achieve this."

Miss Cescon will suggest to the Prime Minister that New Zealand could well take a lead in educating men in the Pacific about these issues.

"Teachers, social workers and medical workers from New Zealand could well be seconded to train their counterparts in the Pacific on these matters," she says.

Miss Cescon says the HIV and AIDS pandemic is increasingly becoming feminised, and this is reflected in the numbers of infections – 7,000 women and girls become infected with HIV every day globally.

"One of the drivers of the spread of HIV is gender-based violence, particularly sexual violence against women.

"There is no doubt this is encouraging the spread of the disease. In Papua New Guinea, where AIDS is now generalised, there are 60,000 reported cases of HIV, and there's been a 30 per cent increase in HIV infections every year since 1997.

"Perhaps more concerning, though, is that young women are three times more likely to be infected than young men. We also know from studies that 60 per cent of married men in Port Moresby are having sex outside of marriage and using commercial sex workers."

World Vision conducted a survey among sex workers in Port Moresby and found 27 per cent were HIV positive.

Miss Cescon said similar circumstances in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1980s led to the AIDS epidemic devastating whole countries.

"In Africa, the spread of HIV was exacerbated by poverty. Men being forced to live and work away from home; women driven by poverty to work as commercial sex workers on the trucking route. These are not issues of morality, they are issues of poverty and deeply ingrained attitudes."

Women in developing communities are often powerless to protect themselves, says Miss Cescon.

"They're faced with physical and sexual violence; they're unable to negotiate safe sex, and they face community and societal discrimination and stigma. We need men globally to take responsibility for the plight of women and children, and to take leadership in changing male attitudes, behaviours and practices towards women."

Miss Cescon will be talking to MPs, government officials, the Prime Minister and the Governor General about this issue as well as addressing Wellington Central Rotary club and church leaders.


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