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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Feb. 1) – The 36 new cases of HIV infection in Fiji last year has taken to 236 the number of confirmed sufferers in the country since 1989, the Fiji Ministry of Health said yesterday.

Interim Health Minister Doctor Jona Senilagakali said the statistics showed Fiji had passed the slow burning stage of the disease in the first 10 years of the HIV epidemic.

He said 31 new HIV positive cases were confirmed in 2003, 29 in 2004 and 29 in 2005.

Dr Senilagakali said 82 per cent of cases were made up of Fijians. Some 88 per cent contacted the virus through heterosexual transition. Of these, 43 per cent were women, and 44 per cent were between the ages of 20-29 years.

He said 31 per cent of those affected were between the age group of 30-39 years while 10 per cent of those with the disease ranged between the age group of 40-49 years.

He said a certain group had been identified in the Fiji National HIV Strategic Plan 2007-2011 with increased vulnerability of HIV because of circumstances of lives and occupation.

"These include young people and adolescents, street children, sex workers, men having sex with men and people who travel overseas for work. The response to the rising epidemic in the country has been galvanized by high-level support from political, traditional and religious leaders," Dr Senilagakali said.

And in spite of the number of achievements to reverse the spread of HIV in Fiji, there was still room for improvement, he said.

Government's commitment remains evident in its increased resources to the health ministry with the FJ$500,000 [US$297,600] budget in 2006 to combat HIV with the continued assurance to strengthen the capacity of the health sector in response to HIV.

The capacity building includes counseling, infection control practices, treatment and care of people living with the virus, Dr Senilagakali said.

He said a crucial role on the prevention and control measures were played by civil societies like the Fiji Red Cross, Marie Stopes International Fiji, the Reproductive and Family Health Association, Fiji Council of Social Services and the Fiji Nursing Association for providing HIV/AIDS education and service to variety of population groups and people living with HIV.

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