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SUVA, Fiji Islands (PACNEWS)---UNAIDS, a United Nations program on HIV/AIDS education, has reported that the number of officially identified cases of HIV/AIDS in the Pacific is on the increase and the deadly disease has spread to 14 Pacific Island countries.

UNAIDS coordinator Steve Vete said that many of the cases in the Pacific occur among relatively well educated and skilled persons, generally the strongest members of the workforce.

He said Pacific Islanders today are extremely mobile and on the move. "These are seamen serving overseas, civil servants on short term and longer courses and meetings, students studying in regional and international education institutions, sports people and other groups touring different countries," Vete said.

"Many of these cases which have been officially reported in the Pacific are those (among people) who have opportunities to travel. Many of these people have, in turn, infected their wives and lovers on their return home. The effects of HIV infection can take up to five years before any physical signs start to appear. In the meantime, an HIV positive person can transmit the virus through unprotected sexual intercourse, unsterilized needles or through blood products," Vete said.

He said the number of cases of traditional, faithful and subservient women unwittingly being affected by their husbands also is on the rise.

To date, Papua New Guinea (PNG) has the highest number of AIDS victims.

According to UNAIDS figures, PNG has 618 AIDS victims from among 1,741 with the HIV virus.

There is national concern in Papua New Guinea that AIDS could become the leading cause of death in the country.

New Caledonia is second with 67 cases from 185 persons HIV positive. Another French territory, French Polynesia, has 51 confirmed AIDS cases. The American territory of Guam is next with 49 cases.

American Samoa, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Tuvalu and Vanuatu are the only Pacific Island countries that have not yet recorded any AIDS cases.

The HIV/AIDS figures were jointly prepared by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and UNAIDS.

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