April 21, 2010
At an AIDS conference in the Marshall Islands capital of Majuro last week, representatives from US-affiliated Pacific Island nations discussed HIV stigma and its impact on prevention and treatment.
In 2008, 29,629 HIV cases were reported in the predominantly Christian Pacific Island nations. Papua New Guinea logged 28,294, though UNAIDS said a full count could be closer to 54,000. Levels of under-reporting in the rest of the region are most likely similar, the agency said.
Many meeting attendees shared their stories of living with HIV/AIDS. Temo Sasau of Fiji said that when he told his supervisors he was HIV-positive, his pay was withheld, despite having worked at the business for 11 years. Sasua, who now works for the Pacific Islands AIDS Foundation, said more openness is needed to ensure that those who are infected seek treatment.
Cathy Samuel from the atoll of Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia said her family was forced to move to another island due to the "embarrassment" of having a relative die of AIDS. "People think everyone with HIV is a sinner and that God will not forgive them," said Samuel.
Zachraias Zachraias, director of the Marshall Islands Ministry of Health's HIV program, noted that discrimination makes it difficult for people to discuss the disease publicly. "Thank you for your courage to help the people in this room in the fight against HIV/AIDS," he told those who had spoken out.