New Pacific network on HIV medicine and sexual health care launched at Ministers of Health Meeting

News release

Thursday 15 March 2007, Port Vila, Vanuatu— In a bid to ensure that people living with HIV and people affected by sexual health problems in the Pacific receive the best-possible care, doctors from around the region have created the Oceania Society for Sexual Health and HIV Medicine (OSSHHM).

At the launch of OSSHHM at the Ministers of Health Meeting in Vanuatu today, the society’s Interim Secretary Dr Arvin Chaudhary said, ‘HIV medicine and sexual health care are complex and technically demanding areas that are just starting to develop in our region.

‘The formation of such a society represents a vital step in making sure people living in the Pacific have access to high-quality services in prevention, treatment, care and support in HIV medicine and sexual health care.’

Dean of the Fiji School of Medicine and OSSHHM Trustee Professor David Brewster said he hoped the society would contribute to ‘ensuring that the clinical care of people living with HIV and the response to sexual health issues will be based on science and public health principles’.

‘The most effective HIV responses in the world have resulted from governments, health-care professionals and people living with HIV working together as equal partners,’ said Dr Jimmie Rodgers, SPC Director-General and OSSHHM Trustee. ‘OSSHHM will allow one group of those key partners – the professionals – to strengthen and refine their input on the basis of science and the experience of their colleagues elsewhere in the world.’

OSSHHM was created in light of key findings from research conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in six Pacific countries in 2004–2005. Results showed high prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), limited knowledge about how HIV is transmitted and low rates of condom use, signalling the potential for a rapid spread of HIV in the region.

In this context, networks of health-care workers, such as OSSHHM, are crucial to help address issues of further training, education and support for sexual health care practitioners. Among its other objectives, OSSHHM aims to provide relevant public information and expert advice. It will also help facilitate regional research and assist in improving coordination between clinics and laboratories.

As Dr Rodgers said, ‘We do not need to make the mistakes in this region that other parts of the world have already made. The focus on science and best practice provided by OSSHHM will help Pacific Island countries and territories to respond to HIV and other STIs in the most effective way from the beginning.’

Membership of OSSHHM is open to medical practitioners and other health-care workers who are directly involved in HIV and sexual health care. OSSHHM members will be working closely with colleagues from Papua New Guinea, who launched the PNG Sexual Health Society at the 42nd annual Papua New Guinea Medical Symposium in 2006.

OSSHHM’s Interim President, Dr Jason Mitchell, expressed his gratitude to the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM) for its support in forming OSSHHM and to SPC for its secretariat support. He thanked OSSHHM trustees Dr Rodgers, Pacific Islands AIDS Foundation CEO Maire Bopp, and Professor Brewster for their longstanding and deep commitment to developing a response in the Pacific to HIV and to people living with HIV.

For more information, please contact Mr Wu Guogao, WHO External Relations Officer, at (+63 2) 528 9930 or e-mail wug@wpro.who.int, or Dr Thierry Jubeau, SPC Public Health Programme Manager, at ThierryJ@spc.int. Press releases can also be found at: http://www.wpro.who.int/sites/pic/en/press_releases/ or http://www.spc.int/AC/health_conference_Vanuatu.htm#Press%20releases0

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