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PALIKIR, Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia (January 13, 2000 – FSM Information Service)---Recent United Nations attention to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) has prompted the World Bank to write the FSM President, Leo Falcam, asking how it can assist in a plan of action, according to Ben Jesse, HIV/AIDS health specialist.

The disease, which was first reported in the Federated States of Micronesia in 1988, has killed millions worldwide. However, to date, just seven cases have been confirmed in the FSM. Only two of these people are still alive, said Jesse.

Health reports from Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands show that more Micronesians are infected with the disease in those areas said Jesse, who added that in the FSM, the disease is definitely here but not reported widely.

Although the bulk of the financial assistance to support HIV prevention and AIDS surveillance in the FSM comes from the U.S. Public Health, through the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, the FSM also receives technical and financial assistance from UNAIDS.

From 1996-1997, the FSM was entitled to $20,000 per annum from UNAIDS to support AIDS prevention and control activities, said Jesse.

At present, the FSM only asks UNAIDS to assist in purchasing test kits to support screening capabilities.

An estimated $5,000 to $6,000 is being used to purchase 3,000 test kits.

It takes about eight to 12 weeks to reach a point where antibodies to HIV can be detected in the body after being exposed. It takes about seven to 10 years for those infected to show signs and symptoms that then develop into full-blown AIDS, said Jesse.

"The time element depends largely on the individual’s immune system."

Jesse added that the tests only report those who show a reaction to the test. A confirmation test is too costly to run here, so it is done in Australia.

For surveillance purposes, the FSM conducts anti-HIV screening on some populations groups, including alien workers and pre-marriage clients.

Some of these population groups are STD patients, prenatal and antenatal clients, blood donors, students taking physical examinations, food handlers, and TB patients.

Although everybody is at risk for HIV, government employees and others who travel off-island and engage in high-risk activities are most susceptible to HIV infection.

Jesse said he thinks the government should now lead a more aggressive role in educating students, as currently FSM health officials only conduct education courses upon request. He indicated that since this is a disease most often contracted sexually, cultural restrains have made it difficult to be more aggressive in educating the public.

HIV, which leads to full-blown AIDS, is the world’s fourth leading cause of death, the New York Times reported on its website, January 11.

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