As World Aids Day is commemorated around the globe today, the Pacific Community (SPC) joins the international fraternity to reaffirm its commitment to raise awareness on issues relating to HIV and AIDS in line with this year’s theme -“Ending the AIDS epidemic as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.”
According to the 2014 Global AIDS Response Progress report by UNAIDS, there are already 15 million people accessing life-saving HIV treatment.
New HIV infections have been reduced by 35% since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths have been reduced by 42% since the peak in 2004.
In the Pacific overall the prevalence remains low, while few countries are reporting a slow increase in numbers.
Recent surveillance data and research findings in Pacific Island countries and territories show the high prevalence of STIs and infections such as Chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis remain a health issue.
Apart from Papua New Guinea, reported HIV cases are relatively low in the region. For example, on average Fiji reports around two cases per year while the Federated States of Micronesia recorded eight new cases in 2014 and Solomon Islands 10 cases in 2014.
However, testing coverage is still low in some population groups.
There is low testing of HIV in pregnant women with Fiji reporting more than other countries and in 2013, 85% of pregnant women in Fiji had been tested for HIV in Fiji.
The Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission coverage remains low regardless of small numbers and from the UNAIDS Global Aids Response Progress 2013 report, it was noted that coverage in Fiji was more compared to other Pacific Island countries.
As the principal scientific and technical organisation supporting development in the region, the Pacific Community is working with national governments and development partners through an integrated approach to support key services and vulnerable groups as articulated in the Pacific Sexual and Wellbeing Shared Agenda.
Given the trend of HIV in the region, there is a need to identify and work with key populations and services they need. For example, a number of studies have been supported to provide well-informed plans and targeted approaches. These included sex workers and prisoners in Fiji and Vanuatu over recent years.
Late initiation ante retroviral therapy has been an issue because different countries used different treatment standards and protocols.
However, the World Health Organisation has developed a set of new standards and guidelines which was updated recently recommending that all newly diagnosed HIV positive cases be started on ante retroviral therapy with the emphasis of putting people on treatment as early as possible as a better outcome for prevention and spread of HIV.
The target of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 means quickening the pace for essential HIV prevention and treatment approaches so as to limit the epidemic to a more manageable level in its approach toward the elimination phase. For the Pacific Island countries and territories, achieving this target is possible as some countries are yet to report new HIV cases,
SPC will continue to work with Pacific Island countries and territories to ensure their targets to the Sustainable Development Goals are met for HIV elimination.
The global community will continue to adopt these goals with the small islands development states in the Pacific responding in a multi-sectoral approach, and an integrated way.