FIJI PRESIDENT ENCOURAGES HIV VICTIMS TO SPEAK

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Pacific AIDS awareness gathering held in Nadi

By Repeka Nasiko SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, April 12, 2011) - Fiji’s President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau has urged those living with HIV in the Pacific to speak with one voice in their efforts to raise awareness of AIDS and its increasing numbers amongst young people.

Ratu Epeli said it was important for those living with HIV to speak out about their experiences while opening the first ever gathering of HIV positive people in the Pacific in Nadi.

"People living with HIV understand each others situation better and are best placed to educate, counsel and advise one another. Therefore, this meeting is critical and important," Ratu Epeli said.

Ratu Epeli who is also the UN HIV ambassador for the Pacific, encouraged the participants to talk with other people living with HIV and to make AIDS an issue among their communities.

"I would like to encourage you to talk with other people living with HIV. Sit down with as many people as possible in the rural and urban communities, and make AIDS become an issue for your people in your communities, and villages particularly. Don’t make it something that is merely imposed from the outside which was the case or the norm for many years."

"Ensure that the issue is owned by the people, by the communities, and that you have discussions on the difficult issues in your society -- for example on gender relations, sex, and sexual violence."

He commended the participants for their bravery and also emphasized on the importance of involving leaders of governments and letting them be a part of the fight against discrimination and stigma that is usually accorded to those living with HIV.

"I commend your efforts, those people living with HIV, for organizing yourselves into effective networks which advocate to secure your rights and to focus on response to aids related stigma in society. You, as brave individuals and organizations play an important role in focusing the attention of leaders and policy makers to the special problems faced by yourselves as infected and affected populations," he said.

"Stigma and discrimination can be defeated. Strong leadership is stronger than stigma and discrimination. And a number of countries are now showing strong leadership by challenging and reducing HIV-related stigma, discrimination and human rights violations."

The UN HIV Ambassador also said governments needed to allocate money for those responding to HIV in their annual budgets.

"We need to secure that long-term commitment now. We need it from our donors and development partners. We need it from the World Bank. We need it from the Global Fund. Most importantly we need it from our governments’ annual budget. And we need a commitment at the highest level from all political leaders in the world."

The Pacific Positive People’s gathering is currently being held at Nadi’s Radisson resort. Also attending its opening yesterday was Minister for Health, Dr. Neil Sharma and Minister for Women’s and Social Welfare, Dr. Jiko Luveni.

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