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By Janet David

PALIKIR, Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia (January 28 - February 10, 1999 - The Island Tribune)---The incurable disease, AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), is rapidly becoming a major concern in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).

According to Ben Jessy, FSM National AIDS Program Coordinator, so far four people have died from AIDS and one person is currently an AIDS patient. The last death occurred in Kosrae in November 1998.

Jessy said the first known case of AIDS in the FSM appeared in Kosrae State in 1989.

Although only one known case of AIDS exists in the FSM today, health officials have been informed of several FSM citizens in Guam and Hawaii who have acquired the virus. Jessy said it is also possible that the FSM may have cases that health officials are not yet aware of.

Because of negative public reaction towards AIDS victims in the FSM, as well as in other places, the identity of AIDS victims has been kept confidential. This confidentiality may compromise prevention measures as health officials cannot keep tabs on the sexual relations of the AIDS patients. Thus a person may contract the virus without knowing it.

Bob Spegal, Director of the Pohnpei State Health Services, said he is not aware of anyone who has shown up at the Pohnpei State Hospital with AIDS. He is, however, aware of a tourist, who was admitted to the hospital several years ago with AIDS symptoms. Before doctors could confirm the case, the tourist discharged himself and left the island.

Health officials are trying their best to prevent the spread of AIDS by providing moral counseling to AIDS patients and public education on how to protect oneself from acquiring the virus. Health officials are also trying to educate the public on how to deal with AIDS victims. An AIDS Prevention Council has been established in the State of Pohnpei to combat the spread of AIDS. Mohner Esiel, a member of the Council, said this organization is still in its early stages of development.

According to Peter Crippen, who represents the Center for Disease Control for Prevention of Diseases in the United States (U.S.)-associated Pacific island nations, the two most common ways of transmitting the AIDS virus, HIV, are through sexual contact with an HIV-infected person and blood transfusions or exchange of blood amongst drug users. Once the virus infiltrates the body, it goes into the body cells and replicates itself. "It sort of takes over the cell," said Crippen. It then attacks the human body's immune system. This cripples the body's ability to fight against diseases, leaving the person vulnerable to any disease. Crippen said the whole process is very complicated and takes a bit of time. The effect of the virus, he said, may take a few months to even 10 years to be noticed, depending on an individual's response to the virus.

Once the body's immune system has been destroyed, the person may die of any kind of disease, from a simple cold and cough to skin cancer. The most common causes of death are opportunistic infections. "Diseases that were curable in a person with a healthy immune system become very life-threatening in a person who has been infected with the HIV virus," Crippen said.

Because there is no cure for AIDS and anyone is susceptible to it, it inevitably must be the responsibility of each individual to protect oneself from AIDS.

For additional reports from The Island Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Island Tribune or

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