SUVA, Fiji (June 4) - Because of the small size and tiny population of their homelands, the indigenous people of the South Pacific island states are particularly vulnerable to the HIV-AIDS virus.

Indeed it is not at all impossible to imagine whole cultures disappearing, particularly among the microstates, if the virus gains a foothold in those countries.

The young are in particular danger if the experiences of Papua New Guinea – by far the biggest population and by far the worst affected by the virus – and Fiji are any reliable guide.

In both countries the disease has struck nearly all age groups with the late teens to early 20s in special danger.

And the disease, once wrongly thought restricted to male homosexuals, is now more frequently spread through heterosexual contact.

But despite the publicity and the constant reminders, the ignorance of the disease among those most vulnerable to it is frightening.

This is no doubt partly due to the reluctance in this region of the world to discuss sex in an open and frank manner.

It is as though we wish to preserve the mystery of procreation.

And the attitude was no doubt encouraged and reinforced by the missionaries of the Victorian era who brought the light of Christianity to most of the islands in this region.

But when whole cultures are under threat it is no time to be squeamish.

Our young people need to be protected against the HIV virus. And in the absence of any reliable preventive drugs by far the best protection is knowledge.

And if we deprive the young of that knowledge, we condemn them to danger and ourselves to regret.

Young people have been experimenting with their sexuality since the Garden of Eden and they are not going to stop doing so. It’s part of growing up.

Let’s help them grow up in safety.

June 4, 2004


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