October 26, 2005
"We can still avert a devastating epidemic if we act now and act decisively. We can do it," J.V.R. Prasada Rao, UNAIDS Asia-Pacific director, told a conference today in Auckland, New Zealand. "The response to SARS and the response to the recent tsunami shows what we can do in a crisis."
However, Prasada Rao said the HIV prevention budgets of island nations in the Pacific are inadequate. He called for more cooperation among international and UN agencies, a leadership role for churches, and for officials of the Pacific nations to face facts regarding their citizens' sexual practices.
"Frightening new data" from Papua New Guinea, where UNAIDS says 1.7 percent of the population are infected, demand that the current estimate of 35,000 HIV cases in the Pacific be heavily revised, Prasada Rao said.
"Pacific leaders have been asleep for a long time, but they have woken up. Better late than never," said Jimmie Rodgers of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. "Politicians must care about HIV/AIDS because if they don't then of course the whole economic infrastructure of their countries will disappear."
Even so, Rodgers, like Prasada Rao, sees a ray of hope. "This is the region where we want to stop the trend of HIV/AIDS and reverse it," he said.
Some 450 people are attending the meeting, the first international AIDS conference to address the epidemic in the Pacific nations.