President of Fiji commits to easing HIV burden for women in the Pacific region

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President of Fiji commits to easing HIV burden for women in the Pacific region

09 March 2012

(From left to right): United Nations Resident Coordinator Knut Ostby, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé and the President of Fiji, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, pictured here with Head Girls of various high schools in Suva at a joint stakeholders’ meeting in Suva on 8 March, International Women’s Day.
Credit: UNAIDS/A. Nacola

Speaking at a meeting on International Women’s Day in Suva, capital city of Fiji, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé praised President Ratu Epeli Nailitikau for his “remarkable leadership” and personal engagement in the AIDS response at country, regional and global levels.

“President Nailitikau is helping to transform the UNAIDS vision of Zero new HIV infections, Zero discrimination and Zero AIDS-related deaths into a reality in the Pacific Island states,” said Mr Sidibé, addressing a range of partners in the national AIDS response, including women living with HIV, youth leaders, senior government officials, and representatives of the diplomatic community.

The UNAIDS Executive Director commended President Nailatikau for championing efforts to revise and remove punitive laws that hamper the AIDS response. He cited, in particular, Fiji’s decision in 2011 to lift travel restrictions for people living with HIV and a 2009 decision to decriminalize sex between men.

“Through your determination and commitment, you have changed laws and improved the lives of vulnerable people,” said Mr Sidibé. “This is not only a great benefit for Fiji, but an important example for the entire Pacific region, and the world.”

Mr Sidibé urged the President to harness this same commitment to stop gender-based violence—a risk factor for the continued spread of HIV among women in Pacific region.

“The Pacific Island States are facing a potential tsunami of new HIV infections, particularly among women and girls,” said President Nailatikau. “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,” he added.

According to the latest official data from Fiji, there were 53 newly reported cases of HIV in 2011—the highest annual number of cases in Fiji since the beginning of the epidemic.

“Despite our efforts, a large and growing number of people in Fiji are becoming infected with HIV,” said President Nailatikau. “We must redouble our efforts to ensure that this trend is stopped, and that all people affected by this epidemic have our full respect and support.”

President Nailitikau is a long-standing advocate and champion on HIV. During his time as Speaker of the House of Representatives in Fiji, he served as a UNAIDS Ambassador to the Pacific and was actively involved in promoting a strong AIDS response in the region.

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

President Ratu Epeli Nailitikau of Fiji

A leading voice at the June 2011 United Nations High Level Meeting on AIDS, President Nailitikau called for the elimination of new HIV infections among children and zero discrimination against people living with HIV. More recently, at conferences in the Asia-Pacific region, he has encouraged governments to commit to the targets of the 2011 Political Declaration on AIDS.

“From our experience in Fiji, we know that partnership between sectors, between people, drives strength and progress,” said President Nailatikau. “I urge all national partners including the various government sectors, civil society, affected communities, churches and faith-based organizations, the private sector and others to re-unite towards ending AIDS in Fiji, and across the region.”

UNAIDS is currently working with the Government of Fiji to translate recommendations from the June 2011 UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS into action. Key areas of focus include eliminating new HIV infections among children, ensuring the availability of HIV services for key affected populations, and implementing the newly-amended Fijian HIV/AIDS Decree.

Fiji has a low HIV prevalence: an estimated 0.1% of the national adult population is living with HIV. In recent years, efforts to prevent new HIV infections among children have been strengthened.

Despite progress, stigma and discrimination in Fiji continue to block access to HIV services for people living with and affected by HIV. Low levels of HIV testing and gender-based violence are added challenges in the national HIV response.