World AIDS Day – 1 December 2009

‘Universal Access and Human Rights’ is the international theme for World AIDS Day 2009.

The theme strikes at the heart of what is perhaps the single largest challenge faced by people living with HIV/AIDS in our communities today. This challenge is demonstrated in the stories from many Pacific Island countries and territories including that of Pita (not his real name), a Fijian in his thirties who tested positive for HIV three years ago.

Pita’s story is similar to many others: ‘Life hasn’t been rosy. Even in hospital, I experienced how people living with HIV are constantly discriminated against and stigmatised. To this day, such discrimination stops me from revealing my positive status to anyone.’

The World AIDS Day theme – Universal access and human rights – focuses on issues close to Pita’s heart.

‘To me being HIV positive doesn’t mean others should point the finger. As humans we still have equal rights to life,’ says Pita. ‘The World AIDS Day campaign is a call to those in power throughout the Pacific to work together to revise laws, activities and cultural practices that discriminate against people living with HIV and those living on the edge.’

Speaking in support of the campaign, Dr Jimmie Rodgers, Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), says ‘The everyday increase in discrimination against our fellow human beings just because they seem different is not the Pacific way. Whether a colleague or someone we encounter is a member of a sexual minority, a sex worker or a person living with HIV should make no difference. Every person has equal rights and should be embraced with the same level of respect.’

Respect for human rights is central to an effective response to HIV in the Pacific. The region must be able to demonstrate that the rights of all individuals are protected and this means that:

  • people living with HIV are able to access appropriate services and support;
  • everyone in society is equipped with the information, services and products they need to protect themselves;
  • children and adults are educated and taught to embrace differences to avoid the damaging impacts of gender inequality, gender-based violence, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and marginalisation of sex workers and people living with HIV; and
  • the policies and legislation needed to ensure these rights are put in place and implemented.

Globally, 33 million people were estimated to be living with HIV in 2007. Of these, 2.7 million people were newly infected. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most seriously affected region, accounting for 67 per cent of all people living with HIV in 2007.

Even though the numbers of people living with HIV in the Pacific, excluding Papua New Guinea, are relatively small, the high rates of other sexually transmitted infections are a cause for concern. So far, very few Pacific Islands have laws that specifically protect the rights of people living with HIV. Papua New Guinea, the French Territories and Pohnpei State do have such laws. Fiji is currently drafting a promulgation specific to HIV, while other countries, such as Palau, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, are considering amending their Public Health Acts or developing comprehensive stand-alone legislation. Most countries still have laws that discriminate against men who have sex with men and against sex workers. Most still also lack legislation to deal with and prevent gender-based violence.

Pita hopes that people will take notice of the 2009 World AIDS Day campaign and will talk about it, whether at home, in the school playground or classroom, in church or at village chiefs’ meetings.

For more information, contact Jovesa Saladoka on This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
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