Pacific Islands AIDS Foundation’s Closure Worries Advocates

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People living with HIV no longer have ‘strong regional voice’

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, March 29, 2013) – It is feared that people living with HIV in the Pacific will be more vulnerable to discrimination, and advocacy and prevention measures could disappear, as a result of the Pacific Islands AIDS Foundation closing.

The foundation is closing due to lack of funds because it has been unable to attract new donor support after the New Zealand government withdrew its core funding.

The founder of the Pacific Islands Aids Foundation, Maire Bopp, says the immediate impact of the closure is that a group of HIV positive people and their families will be left without a strong regional voice.

"That then will lead to an absence of advocacy and visibility of HIV and its issues. At a human level, the loss of advocacy could imply that HIV prevention will slow down and potentially disappear and the issue around HIV treatment will regress."

The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade says it determined that a more effective use of New Zealand’s funding would be to support the Pacific Regional Strategy on HIV and other STIs, and PIAF was eligible to apply for funding through this mechanism.

But Maire Bopp says the new terms and conditions were not flexible enough and no other donors were willing to share the cost.

"You know HIV, it has had its time of fashion, but it’s never been an attraction for many donors. I think if it wasn’t for obligation to do so, to fulfill one of the millennium goal, then I think many donors would question themselves before putting any money in, and I think we’re back to that stage."

The executive director of the New Zealand Aids Foundation, Shaun Robinson, says funding available for international work on HIV, particularly around the Pacific region, is now harder and harder to get.

He says the Pacific is generally considered to have a low prevalence of HIV, and money is often being focussed instead on places like South East Asia, where HIV is rampant.

Mr Robinson says it’s a real shame because PIAF has worked hard to raise awareness around HIV and the issues facing people living with HIV in the region.

But he says if there are no resources for people to do the work, the work won’t get done.

"So those people that are living with HIV are likely to not recieve as much support, or appropriate support, they are more vulnerable to being discriminated against, they are more vulnerable to being hidden and ashamed into not revealing their HIV status and therefore not getting health treatment, but also then raising the risk of passing the HIV onto other people."

The Director of the Public Health division of the Secretariat of the Pacific, Colin Tukuitonga, says unfortunately changes in funding arrangements this year will effect other NGOs like PIAF.

He says the Global Fund, the major source of funding for much of the activities for HIV, STIs, TB and malaria in the Pacific ends most of its support in June this year, and the Australia and New Zealand Response Fund ends in December.

Mr Tukuitonga says the SPC is currently looking for ways to continue services as best they can.

"I just think PIAF, the advocacy work, there’s not a lot of organisations who are outside of government and insitutions who do this work. We are exploring other opportunities but I would have, personally would have, preferred some on-going support because non-governmental organisations do tremendous work in the community. They hold us to account, they hold governments to account, they do good work."

He says he’s confident that while things might not be as they were, there will be support going forward.

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