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Fiji president and international groups address needs of Pacific women with HIV

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Helen Thompson
WVoN co-editor

The Pacific Islands AIDS Foundation is working to reduce stereotypes about HIV in the Pacific with the message that women with HIV can have healthy children.

On International Women’s Day, PIAF research officer, Hilary Gorman, explained that:

“In the Pacific what we’ve found is that generally women who are married or in a steady relationship are contracting HIV.”

She also added that the belief that only sex workers are in danger of contracting HIV is widespread and so women in relationships are not protecting themselves.

Another myth is that women are to blame for contracting HIV, even when it was their male partners who had had sex outside the relationship.

Gorman explained that in her 2011 study of the experiences of HIV positive women in Fiji and Papua New Guinea findings indicated that “even if it was men who were known to be the one that brought HIV into a relationship, somehow women were still the ones who were often punished or blamed, even if they contracted [HIV] from their husband.”

While most Pacific Island nations provide medical support for HIV positive women as well as support groups, not all women take advantage of these facilities because of the social stigma associated with the disease.

Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable because they need to be reassured that they can take steps to prevent the transmission of HIV to their babies.

Gorman said that “there is no guarantee that HIV will be transferred from mother to the child,” and that doctors can provide treatments that reduce the risk of transmission quite considerably.

Gorman’s report calls for governments in the Pacific need to provide counseling services for affected women.

These messages come at a time when UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibé visited Fijian president, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, to discuss the spread of AIDS among women and girls in the Pacific region.

The president said that: “The Pacific Island States are facing a potential tsunami of new HIV infections, particularly among women and girls.”

“I am personally committed to working with UNAIDS to ensure that across the Pacific region, women and girls do not bear the burden of this epidemic.”

Sidibé encouraged the president to also address violence against women because it is a risk factor in the spread of AIDS to Pacific women.

With the statements from the Fijian president, and the PIAF research report, the hope is that providing facts about HIV, debunking the myths, and providing additional services, more HIV positive women, especially those who are pregnant, will investigate treatment options.

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