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More than 0.5 percent infected

SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, April 19, 2010) - Fiji continues to have the second highest number of HIV/AIDS cases in the Pacific after Papua New Guinea but the rate of HIV infections in Fiji has passed the 0.5 percent mark and is moving towards PNG’s one percent mark.

Launching the report on the Commission on AIDS in the Pacific in Suva today, UNAIDS Pacific Regional Coordinator Stuart Watson said there is a slight increase in Fiji’s infection rate every year.

The report found that there have been 29,629 reported cases of people living with HIV in the Pacific with 5,162 new HIV diagnoses reported in 2008. Cases from PNG made up over 99 percent of reported cases in 2008.

PNG has 28,294 reported cases but UNAIDS estimates that the number of people living with HIV is 54,000.

The report said women comprise the majority of reported cases across the whole Pacific region.

"The largest number of infections annually and cumulatively is female," Watson said of the trend Pacific-wide. "Fiji is also going in that direction."

Sexually transmitted infections are endemic across the region with some countries reporting 18 percent incidence of Chlamydia in pregnant women, the report said.

The predominant mode of transmission is unprotected sex.

Unprotected male-to-male sex and injecting drug use was responsible for a significant proportion of infections in New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Guam, the only countries with reported cases of HIV infections from sex between men.

The report said behavioral surveillance identifies male-to-male sex among Fiji’s police and military (6.7 percent) as well as among youth in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Samoa and among STI clinic patients in Fiji and Samoa (5.7 percent).

Watson said it was "fantastic" that sodomy had been decriminalized under recent changes to Fiji’s laws and that legislation around that sex work in Fiji had been strengthened.

The report also said that the outside of PNG, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Guam and "perhaps Fiji", the low number of reported cases makes it difficult to predict with any certainty the future growth of HIV in the region.

"Only a limited number of countries (most notably PNG) undertake HIV estimates; most of the countries depend on reported cases for the planning of their national responses."

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