Pacific Islanders attending the second largest international forum on HIV/AIDS are using the forum to highlight the successes and challenges of responding to HIV/AIDS in the region.In his address at the 10th International Congress on AIDS for Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP 10) underway in Busan, South Korea, Fiji's President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau urged political leaders, representatives of civil society and other concerned individuals to engage more actively in responding to HIV/AIDS.
'It is essential for leaders across the region to be more actively engaged if they are to translate regional political commitments into more effective national action through enhancing public policy, strengthening the enabling environment and programming health and social services,' Ratu Epeli said.
The response to HIV needs people who care and are committed to the cause, said former Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa Misa Telefoni Retzlaff during a Pacific symposium at the conference. Mr Retzlaff, who is also chairperson of the Commission on AIDS in the Pacific, said it is very important to have the 'element of caring as part of the equation.'
UNICEF's Regional Ambassador for the Pacific, Mere Nailatikau highlighted the need for Pacific youth to have a more robust global voice.
'In a region with a burgeoning youth population, Pacific youth must take their place at the global table. Our challenges are too great not to take every opportunity for meaningful participation at every level - national, regional and global,' she said.
The Most Reverend Archbishop John Ribat of Papua New Guinea said churches played an important role in raising awareness on HIV/AIDS related issues in the most remote places.
He acknowledged the difficulties that churches have in promoting humanrights-based approaches to HIV/AIDS prevention and care. However, Archbishop Ribat said he believed that this would change over time as people and the churches accept this approach to'preserving, protecting and loving life.'
About 60 Pacific Islanders from PNG, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and the Federated States of Micronesia have joined more than 2500 participants, mainly from the Asia-Pacific region, for the biennial conference.Representatives from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) are also attending ICAAP10. The SPC provides support to its member countries in issues relating HIV and STIs.
The theme for ICAAP 10 is 'Diverse Voices, United Action', and the conference comes at a pivotal moment in the AIDS response. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the identification of the first case of AIDS in the United States.