Lawmakers of Pacific Countries Must Stop Living in ‘Denial’ About HIV/AIDS, Human Rights Advocate Says at Conference
Lawmakers in Pacific countries must stop living in "denial" about HIV/AIDS and begin investing in prevention efforts to combat the spread of the disease, Michael Kirby, human rights advocate and former member of the World Health Organization's Global Commission on AIDS, said at a three-day conference in Auckland, New Zealand, the New Zealand Herald reports (Gregory, New Zealand Herald, 4/12). The conference, which ends on Friday, includes leaders and policymakers from 15 Pacific countries and aims to examine ways to ensure HIV-positive people are protected by laws in the region, the New Zealand Press Association reports. Kirby, a justice of the High Court of Australia, said strategies for combating the disease include the promotion of condoms and the decriminalization of commercial sex work. "A lot of painful and difficult steps need to be taken," he said (New Zealand Press Association, 4/12). Nauru Health Minister Kieren Keke said it was difficult to talk about issues such as the need for sex education without opposition from community members, adding that religious influence is part of the problem. Stuart Watson, program director for UNAIDS' Pacific sub-region, said that there were some encouraging signs from churches but added that rhetoric did not always result in action. Papua New Guinea Health Minister Peter Barter said his country, where the rate of new HIV cases diagnosed has increased about 30% annually since 1977, had done more to curb the epidemic than its Pacific neighbors. Barter said that the stigma against HIV-positive people had been radically reduced in the country in just a couple of years. Watson said that legal measures, such as protecting confidentiality in HIV testing and health care, were needed in many countries to help combat the disease (New Zealand Herald, 4/12). According to UNAIDS' "2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic," about 78,000 people in the Pacific were living with HIV in 2005, an increase of 12,000 from 2003 (New Zealand Press Association, 4/12).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.