WE ARE VICTIMS OF PEOPLE'S ATTITUDES - NOT HIV, SAYS DUPONT

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By Tara Chetty

NADI, Fiji Islands (September 4, 2002 - Wansolwara Online/USP Journalism/Pacific Media Watch)---Prominent Pacific HIV/AIDS advocate Maire Bopp Dupont has bitterly criticized a Fiji daily newspaper over its "insensitive reporting" published with pictures today.

Speaking at the Pacific Regional Youth Congress on HIV/AIDS in Nadi, Dupont strongly condemned a report appearing on page three of today¹s Fiji Times.

The report carried a photograph of a person living with HIV, here from Zambia to participate in the congress which was under the headline "HIV victim spreads hope.''

"I don’t like that word victim. I don’t want to see anymore of that word HIV victim. Please don’t use it again and tell other people in the media this," Dupont said before starting off what has been described as the best session since the congress began on Sunday.

"You have to learn to use the proper language. HIV victim is not the word."

The article has also upset congress organizers, UNICEF.

"I find it very unfortunate, as we did HIV/AIDS training for the media just two to three weeks ago and we mentioned that we need to use the correct terminology," said Suva-based UNICEF representative Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija.

Dupont, who went public with her HIV positive status in December 1998, said people living with HIV/AIDS faced a lot of stigma and discrimination.

"Living with HIV means today there is still a lot of discrimination. If you are going for a job and you are HIV positive, you are not going to get that job, even if you are as good or better than others."

Dupont said HIV/AIDS was a health problem; it did not make people victims.

"So far, we are not victims of HIV, we are victims of people’s attitudes,'' she said. "In a restaurant, after you have eaten, they ask your friend, what do we do with her cutlery? How would you feel about it?"

Dupont, a journalism graduate from the University of the South Pacific, is the founder of the Pacific Islands AIDS Foundation and has traveled around the world doing advocacy work on HIV/AIDS.

Dupont recently returned from a World AIDS Conference in Barcelona, where she discussed the HIV/AIDS situation in the South Pacific region with former U.S. President Bill Clinton and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela.

The Nadi meeting wraps up on Friday evening with Pacific group Tevaka performing at the Fiji Mocambo Hotel.

[SEE: Wansolwara Online (USP) student journalist coverage of the HIV/AIDS congress at http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/docs/news/wansolnews/2002/UNICEF-02/index.html.] 

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