HIV in the South Pacific: A societal response

The HIV status of the South Pacific region is generally discussed within the context of the wider Asia Pacific region.  Given the larger population size in Asia and the larger number of HIV cases, the South Pacific region is often overshadowed, with less attention paid to the specific needs of the people of the region.  This is a significant concern as findings indicate that in the South Pacific region HIV is increasing.  

The South Pacific region is categorized into three tiers by HIV prevalence: The first tier comprises of Papua New Guinea (PNG), which has the most number of cases in the region.  This is followed by Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Guam, which collectively form the second tier.  Other small island countries form the third and last tier, with few known cases of HIV.  

Poor health infrastructure, and particularly in the case of Fiji and PNG political instability and low national budgets means that the islands will be unable to cope with a rapid increase in the need for HIV treatment.  Hence, a major area of concern is raising health literacy around HIV and at the same time, improving societal empathy and compassion towards those living with HIV.    

UNAIDs Commission has recognized the importance of whole community involvement in HIV/AIDs prevention, as articulated in the Multisectorial Combination Prevention (CP) Framework.  The CP framework recognizes the need to involve communities in HIV prevention.  In other words, health literacy needs to be community tailored.  Within the South Pacific region, UNAIDS cites national media as a key player in facilitating this multisectorial approach:  The South Pacific media have “the potential to play a more effective role in covering human rights issues and promoting HIV prevention
and awareness, and in bringing about attitude change in the region” (UNAIDS, 2009: 74).

The South Pacific media have responded to the challenge.  Some of the key areas of heightened media action in HIV awareness are:

  • A greater inclusion of sociocultural determinants in the reporting of HIV examplars and their families provides a more balanced and less sensationalized representation of PLWHIV
  • Positive portrayal of HIV advocates in the news has positively influenced societal attitudes and contributed to PLWHIV’s coping strategies and stigma management
  • Local and regional theatre productions have allowed for a greater reach with communities and schools


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Farzana Gounder
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