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By Verenaisi Raicola

SUVA, Fiji Islands (September 9, 2002 - The Fiji Times/PINA Nius Online)---Seven children in Fiji are HIV/AIDS sufferers, having contracted the deadly virus from their mothers, a medical source speaking on condition of anonymity said.

They are highly unlikely to live beyond the age of 10 years, the source said.

The disclosure comes amid a wave of increasing publicity about HIV/AIDS issues. This follows the UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund - Pacific Youth Congress on HIV/AIDS, held in Nadi, and the Fiji Medical Association conference in Suva.

One doctor said children usually contracted the virus during breastfeeding or delivery.

"The life-span of a child with AIDS is always less than 10 years," he said.

Another doctor at Suva's Colonial War Memorial Hospital said while there are some drugs available they are only effective in terms of slowing the process, but not curing the baby.

"This is why the world Health Organization recommends testing during pregnancy."

All pregnant mothers in local hospitals and health centres are tested, he said.

Fiji Nursing Association HIV/AIDS awareness program officer Staff Nurse Filomena Dokoni said the 104 officially confirmed HIV/AIDS cases in Fiji could just be the tip of the iceberg.

"We suspect that there are victims out there still ignorant and not coming forward to be tested. That is why I said there could be many more cases, because the only way to detect the virus is through a test," she said.

Mrs. Dokoni said the major cause of the spread of HIV/AIDS was ignorance.

"It is about ignorance and unless there are more educators emphasizing the dangers of having casual sex it would be hard to control the killer," she said.

Mrs. Dokoni said ways to prevent HIV/AIDS include abstinence, being faithful to one partner, and using condoms.

"Abstinence is the only way so far to be 100 percent safe," she said.

She said there was a need for aggressive educational programs by health officials at the grassroots levels, so people could make informed choices.

Mrs. Dokoni said all those tested for HIV/AIDS were counseled before and after the test.

She said unless the HIV/AIDS programs were modified to suit the target groups people would not volunteer for tests.

She said compulsory testing was a "blanket" method that should not be encouraged.

But she said in some instances it could be considered, especially when there is a promiscuous person known to the community going around and possibly spreading the virus.

Mrs. Dokoni said HIV/AIDS could not be spread through hugging and kissing.

"These people need to be loved and there is no need for them to be discriminated or their identity revealed to everyone except health workers treating them," she said.

Mrs. Dokoni said church and social groups should involve themselves more in educating their members about HIV/AIDS.

For additional reports from the Fiji Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Times.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: 

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