Ministers committed to uphold human right to HIV prevention and care

News release

Madang, Papua New Guinea, 9 July 2009 — Pacific Health Ministers today re-affirmed their commitment — as a human right and a principle of equity — to the goals of preventing HIV transmission and achieving universal access to treatment, care and support for people living with HIV.

The Health Ministers recognised the progress made in the region over the two years since the Vanuatu Commitment to scale up activities in order to reach this goal, and endorsed a number of new strategies for action.

The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) reported to Ministers that the Pacific’s experience of HIV is unique. In Papua New Guinea, where HIV prevalence is as high as 2.5 per cent, HIV remains a public health priority. Other Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) have a low prevalence of HIV.

Recent SPC and World Health Organization (WHO)studies show the region is increasingly vulnerable to a rapid spread of the virus, due to socio-economic and health factors such as gender inequality and gender-based violence, low rates of condom use and high rates of other sexually transmissible infections (STIs).

In response to these emerging trends and new risk factors, SPC’s Public Health Division Manager, Dr Thierry Jubeau, said important progress has been achieved in areas such as human rights, with work on the adaptation of universal legislation to the Pacific, and mainstreaming of gender into HIV programming.

The Pacific Regional Strategy on HIV was extended to 2013 and amended to include other STIs. In parallel, the Pacific Islands HIV & STI Response Fund was launched in 2008 to support the implementation of national and regional HIV strategic plans.

Other key steps include the development of targeted STI communication strategies in many countries and territories, and the endorsement by the Ministers of Health of the Universal Access Policy Framework to ensure adequate supplies and distribution of condoms and the availability of treatment for HIV and other STIs throughout the Pacific.

SPC commissioned a regional technical consultation to assess counselling and testing services in seven PICTs and to identify priority issues to be addressed to scale up such services. In addition, the first phase of the validation of HIV testing algorithms in low HIV prevalence settings in the Pacific has begun with the newly established Pacific HIV Testing Taskforce.

The taskforce is led by the National Reference Laboratory and is composed of a number of regional partners, including SPC and WHO. Papua New Guinea has already validated its own HIV testing algorithm, utilising rapid tests. The number of people tested in Papua New Guinea has more than tripled between 2007 and 2008.

"There are genuine signs of progress across the region," said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO’s Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "But, of course, continued strong commitment, including political will, is going to be necessary if we are to get to grips with this problem."

For more information, please contact: Mr Wu Guogao, WHO External Relations Office, at +63 2 528 9930, email: wug@wpro.who.int Ms Lara Studzinski, Acting Coordinator, Health Management Team, Public Health Division, Secretariat of the Pacific Community — in Madang until 9 July, ph: +675 852 2655; email: LaraS@spc.int

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