“UNIVERSAL access and human rights” was the international theme for World AIDS Day yesterday. To support this major campaign, the HIV & STI section at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in Noumea, New Caledonia, has launched a special Pacific World AIDS Day communication package on the theme “I am me …”
“As we celebrate and commemorate World AIDS Day, the question we must ask ourselves is ‘What am I doing about it?’ Asking this question should challenge individuals to take action and begin addressing deeply entrenched beliefs and practices that push people further to the margins and violate human rights,” Jovesa Saladoka, prevention officer with SPC’s HIV & STI section, said.
SPC, in collaboration with its regional partner agencies, has significantly increased its response to HIV in the last six years through the implementation of the regional strategy on HIV and other STIs.
It has been 21 years since the first World AIDS Day and the Pacific is now in a position to celebrate what has been achieved and make the most of lessons learnt to continue to improve its response.
This response includes working on the development and implementation of human rights legislation as a key tool in preventing HIV and improving access to treatment and care for people living with HIV.
“The Pacific World AIDS Day theme ‘I am me…’ takes a personalised approach to the regional strategy by shifting the responsibility to each of us, as people of the Pacific,” Saladoka said.
“To prevent the spread of HIV and other STIs, the principles of human rights need to be at the forefront of our government agendas but they must also be applied by everyone in the community, no matter what their role or occupation. This includes parents talking about sexuality and sexual and reproductive rights with their children in an open, safe and understanding way.”
A key feature of the Pacific World AIDS Day communication package is a new online interactive blog called Tok Sex Pacific (toksexpacific.blogspot.com), which invites everyone, young and old, from the region and beyond, “to throw in your ideas and have ‘talanoa’ sessions on HIV, universal access and human rights”.
Barely a few hours after the launch of Tok Sex, comments on the blog were already flowing in fast on the first discussion theme: “Why is it so hard to discuss sexuality and sexual health at home?”
One blogger wrote: “We keep saying that religion is important, that we must embrace our cultural values. How can we embrace something if it fuels the spread of HIV and STIs? It’s time to begin talking about it at home.”
According to UNAIDS, the risk of HIV infection and its impact feeds on violations of human rights, including discrimination against women and marginalised groups such as sex workers, people who inject drugs and men who have sex with men.
“A man who beats his wife because she has had an HIV test or asked her husband to use a condom is violating human rights,” Saladoka said.
“Laws that make sex between men a criminal act violate human rights, just as sacking someone from their job because they are HIV positive is also a violation of human rights.”
Discrimination and stigmatisation make it very difficult for people living with HIV to seek treatment.
As well, sex workers and men who have sex with men might not access information on sexual health or condoms because they fear discrimination or a beating.
Even though the number of people living with HIV in the Pacific, excluding Papua New Guinea, is relatively small, the high rates of other sexually transmitted infections are a cause for great concern.
So far, only two Pacific Island countries have laws that protect the rights of people living with HIV. Most countries still have laws that that discriminate against homosexuality and sex workers.
“World AIDS Day is the perfect day to renew our commitment to human rights and to HIV prevention, as individuals and community members.
“So start blogging on Tok Sex now, and talk to your colleagues, family and friends about how to stop discrimination and how to discuss sexual health and rights more openly,” Saladoka said. – Secretariat of the Pacific Community