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International Women’s Day message speaks of hope

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, March 7, 2012) – The Pacific Islands AIDS Foundation (PIAF) is using International Women's Day to deliver the message that women being treated for the HIV status can have healthy children and not pass on the virus to them.

The foundation hopes to raise awareness of the problems faced by HIV positive women and also the help that is available to them.

Hilary Gorman, a PIAF research officer who has just completed a study of Women Living with HIV in Fiji and Papua New Guinea, says there remain a lot of stereotypes about HIV

"In the Pacific what we've found is that generally women who are married or in a steady relationship who are contracting HIV, not all of the time, but quite often," she said.

"And I think there's been a lot of stereotypes that tend to leave people to say they're only sex worker type of women that are vulnerable to HIV. But that's not really how things have turned out in the Pacific, in fact a lot of the time it's been married women or women who are in steady relationships who end up being diagnosed HIV positive."

Ms. Gorman says women in the Pacific often face the blame for contracting HIV, even if it’s the result of their partners having extra-marital affairs.

"The study that PINA conducted last year, we did a study that looked at the experiences of HIV positive women in Fiji and Papua New Guinea," she said.

"What we found was even if it was men who were known to be the one that brought HIV into a relationship, somehow women were still the ones who were often punished or blamed if they found themselves to be HIV positive, even if they contracted it from their husband."

She says while there are a lot of support from communities and families, it is often the HIV positive women who stigmatize themselves.

And she says more needs to be done to make women aware of the treatment options available to them, particularly if they fall pregnant.

"There's no guarantee that HIV will be transferred from the mother to the child," she said.

"It is possible in some cases, but the treatments that are available they've generally found that the risk of transmitting HIV from mother to the baby that's being born can be reduced to almost nothing."

"So that's a good thing and I think that's something that we found in our study that it needs to be more widely known, because of the women were really confused as to whether or not they could have an HIV negative child. And that was a really big concern for them. So we really want to promote the idea that women access these services for their babies so they can prevent transmission of HIV to their child," Ms. Gorman says.

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