1st PPAPD Assembly 2004
Pacific parliamentarians strengthen their commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS in the Pacific region … and make history
By Dr Dennie Iniakwala, HIV/AIDS & STI Adviser, SPC, Noumea, and Dr Rufina Latu, Adolescent Reproductive Health Adviser, SPC, Suva
The signing of the Suva Declaration on the Fight Against HIV/AIDS on 13 October 2004 marked another major step forward by regional leaders, as they continue to commit themselves to the fight against HIV/AIDS in the Pacific region.
More than 80 parliamentarians and government delegates from 19 countries and territories in the Pacific — including Australia, New Zealand and the French territory of New Caledonia — gathered in Suva, Fiji to discuss, debate and deliberate. Also present were 70 HIV/AIDS advocates who encouraged parliamentarians to become champions and icons in leading the fight against HIV/AIDS in our communities.
The meeting was initiated by the Pacific Parliamentary Assembly for Population and Development (PPAPD), in close collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) Suva. PPAPD is a regional parliamentary body established in 1997 with membership from all independent island nations. The Speaker of the House of Representatives of Fiji, Hon. Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, is currently Chair of PPAPD.
The three-day regional meeting (11–13 October 2004) was held at the Tradewinds Convention Centre, Lami, Fiji. It represents the first of its kind in the Pacific region: that is, here parliamentarians gathered to discuss and were willing to learn about their role in the effort to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in the Pacific.
The focus on parliamentarians is important for these reasons:
Parliamentarians are national leaders — they are icons of constituencies and Pacific Island societies.
They have leadership roles in leading the fight against HIV/AIDS in our countries and territories.
Parliamentarians have the mandate and public trust to act in the interests of the people.
They can influence mobilisation of resources both within their country or territory, in or outside the government system, and beyond their borders from development partners.
They may be able to establish or strengthen national parliamentarian advocacy groups, and national and regional networking to maintain dialogue and action in implementing activities that address HIV/AIDS.
Parliamentarians can initiate innovative activities to support HIV/AIDS. For example, in a parliamentarian exchange visitation programme, parliamentarians who are actively involved in HIV/AIDS advocacy might visit other countries and territories to share their experiences.
Parliamentarians bear a special responsibility to set examples that spur others into action. They can also be vulnerable to HIV infection as they travel widely, which strengthens the importance of involving them in HIV/AIDS initiatives, both nationally and regionally.
Their ability to contribute to the fight against HIV/AIDS will be greatly enhanced if they know more about the disease; for this reason, the focus is on both informing them and highlighting action that they can take.
The meeting reinforced the urgency for national and regional actions in implementing The Pacific Regional Strategy on HIV/AIDS 2004–2008, endorsed by Pacific Island Leaders Forum meeting in Samoa in August 2004. This regional strategy is far-sighted and all-encompassing in its vision, goal and principles, and highlights the importance of leadership in HIV/AIDS interventions.
Providing the keynote address was Dr Nafis Sadik, Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General and Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for HIV/AIDS in the Asia–Pacific Region, while the Hon. Prime Minister of Fiji delivered the opening address of the meeting. Other guest speakers included Mr Peter Witham, UN Resident Coordinator, and Dr M. Sukavejworakit, Secretary-General, Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development. In her closing address, Dr Nafis Sadik challenged the leaders to be an example and accelerate the responses in their respective countries and territories.
“You can find the Pacific crippled by HIV or you can seize the opportunity you have to protect your countries from having such epidemic. Be an example of leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS. I know you will choose to be true leaders in these efforts to accelerate the responses in your countries in the Pacific”
Dr Nafis Sadik, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for HIV/AIDS in the Asia-Pacific Region
The meeting culminated in the signing of the Suva Declaration on the Fight Against HIV/AIDS. Through this action, Pacific parliamentarians documented their agreement to commitments and action in the fight against HIV/AIDS, in the areas of advocacy, legislation and resource mobilisation.