In light of the surge in HIV infections in Fiji, Fijian health authorities are calling for an end to stigmatisation and discrimination of individuals affected and infected with HIV to allow those grappling with the disease and who have not been screened to come forward, get checked, and be treated.
Receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) from the Government in India in Suva today, Minister for Health Dr Atonio Lalabalavu urged these individuals to present themselves to the nearest health facility to access these medicines and live a productive life.
“Stigma and Discrimination are two main reasons why millions have lost their lives to HIV-related illnesses. We do not want the same for any Fijian. As a nation, we need to work together towards Zero Discrimination and Stigmatization of individuals affected and infected with HIV,” Dr Atonio said.
“Let me reassure everyone that these medicines are safe, they save lives and prevent newborn babies from contracting HIV even when their mothers and fathers are HIV positive. Antiretroviral treatment has been FREE for all Fijians ever since it was first brought into the country, and it will continue to be free for the life course of individuals. We have confirmed that with ART treatment, Fijian couples with undetectable viral load have had children who are born HIV-negative. ART medications are a lifeline to the Community of People Living with HIV who without this treatment, would likely succumb to the complications of HIV and AIDS.
“To every Fijian who knows or believes that they have HIV but have ignored this for years, I encourage you to come in, get tested and get back into treatment, and make a difference in your life and the lives of your loved ones. I also encourage every Fijian to join in this fight and together we can control this disease which has taken the lives of many of our friends, colleagues, and loved ones.”
HIV infections in Fiji have nearly tripled over 12 years, with 2022 data indicating a significant rise, predominantly among males. Infections surged by 260% since 2010, making Fiji the second-fastest-growing in the Asia Pacific, and among the world’s top five. In 2022, reported cases rose by almost 100%, including 14 children and 2.4% adolescents, and claimed 46 lives.
Permanent Secretary Health Dr. James Fong said Fiji’s struggle against HIV has been further complicated by the disruptive fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns and restrictions interrupted crucial disease prevention programs, all while exacerbating the persistent issue of stigma.
“Stigma not only discourages individuals from seeking essential care, but it also weakens our ability to create a strong support system,” Dr. Fong said. “We need to work hard to reduce stigmatisation. Getting people to be accepting that HIV/AIDS is around and having people more supportive of people with HIV/AIDS so that people are more easily coming up for screening, and those who test positive are more likely to continue with follow-up.”
NOTE: Antiretroviral therapy or ART is administered to people living with HIV to lower the amounts of the virus in the body that prevents them from transmitting it.