Marked increase in Fiji HIV infection “not acceptable”: Ratu Epeli

Fiji’s new HIV infection rate more than doubled in two years, to 147 in 2020, from 72 in 2018.

In the last two months of 2020 alone, 23 new infections were recorded. Of the 147 new cases, 13 were pediatric cases.

The new cases take the number of people living with HIV in the country to over 1000, according to the HIV/AIDS Data Hub for the Asia-Pacific region.

However, UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador for the Pacific Ratu Epeli Nailatikau suggests that the number far from reflects the actual number of people who may be living with the infection in the country.

The 147 new cases recorded in 2020, he said, were opportunistic cases, meaning that there was not active outreach done for testing.

“This could indicate that there are many unknown cases out there,” Ratu Epeli said.

He says Fiji’s increasing numbers is consistent with global trend, but is not acceptable, urging for continued efforts in responding to the infection, whilst dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

““I fully understand and totally support the importance of the COVID-19 response and the prominence it has now been given and the calling for full and concerted public action to combat it. However, I also believe that existing diseases, such as the pandemic HIV/AIDS, also needs our continued attention as it has been around for so many years – and is still without a cure – and as such has lifelong impacts on people who are affected and their families.

“The COVID-19 pandemic must not be an excuse to divert investment from HIV. There is a risk that the hard-earned gains of the AIDS response will be sacrificed to the fight against COVID-19, but the right to health means that no one disease should be fought at the expense of the other,” he added.

Ratu Epeli thanked the UNAIDS based in Fiji and Thailand for their leadership in mobilising the support needed to ensure that the HIV drugs arrived in Fiji without any disruptions in treatment. The Hon. Speaker also thanked the Atlanta Medicare from Thailand for their donation of first-line HIV drugs and Fiji’s Vuvale partner – DFAT for supporting the pediatric HIV medications.

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