September 9, 2013

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HIV Cases On Fiji Outer Island Concerns Health Officials 4 test positive, 40 more refuse testing in Western Division

By Maciu Malo

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Sept. 9, 2013) – Four cases of HIV were recorded by the Ministry of Health in a village on an outer island of the Western Division.

And concern has been raised that 40 more villagers who are suspected of carrying the virus refuse to be tested during visits made to the island by Ministry of Health officials and other stakeholders.

Ministry of Health Reproductive Health Clinic official Dr Rahena Buksh called on the villagers, especially pregnant mothers, to be tested and treated should they test positive.

She said the main drawback to their campaign was the villagers' refusal to be tested because of traditional taboos between other villagers and the feeling of fear and victimisation.

"We did more than 250 tests and found other STIs with them," said Dr Buksh.

"The problem is unsafe sexual practices there with a lot of sleeping around even when they know a particular person is at risk."

"Our message is safe sexual practices, get tested and early booking if pregnant so that in the case of HIV positive, we can save the baby from getting HIV through medication."

Fiji Network Plus (FJN+,) executive Vani Dulaki said the issue should be treated with urgency by leaders and villagers.

She said her team was aware of the spread of the HIV in this particular village after accompanying ministry officials to the island.

[PIR editor’s note: According to a recent survey iTaukei (indigenous Fijians) top the list of HIV positive cases in Fiji.]

She said FJN+, - an organisation established in 2004 by people living with HIV and AIDS - was working to cater for the needs of those living with HIV.

"We have been involved in one activity for this particular village and the sessions were conducted at night for the community for about three hours," said Ms Dulaki.

"Is this sufficient or do we need to contribute the time we need to understand the issue better. This question is very important for the community themselves to respond to because we cannot just say we want to prevent transmission but we are not giving in what is needed for us to know how to prevent transmission.

"The leaders will have to be more bold and call the community together and raise their concerns and talk about what can really happen if we do not work together to prevent this virus from eradicating our community."

Dr Buksh said there was a need for villagers to be tested and treated to prevent the virus spreading to nearby villages.

"It is very much possible that not only close-by villagers have caught HIV from these people but there are also people in the mainland," she said.

"Mainly because our population is very mobile and we know for a fact that these people have been staying for long periods on the mainland in Suva, Lautoka and Nadi to name a few places.

"The MOH and relevant authorities need to continue awareness, not only in these particular areas, but nationwide because our people are very mobile. Most people move rapidly from their area once they suspect they might be infected.

"In hotspot areas such as the one we are talking about, with so much awareness and testing done already, we need to continue such work. We should do a survey to understand their knowledge, attitude and practices."

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