Improving the lives of people living with HIV and AIDS in the Pacific

HIV/AIDS in the Pacific
34 million people live with HIV around the world.

J.* learned she was HIV-positive when she was tested during an antenatal care visit. She returned to her village in Fiji and disclosed her status to her mother. Because of stigma associated with HIV and AIDS, her mother rejected her and she was ultimately forced to leave her community and home. She moved to a distant cousin’s house but she was filled with shame and despair and so scared of people’s reaction that she would not allow health care workers to visit her.

Even though HIV and AIDS is not widespread in Pacific Island countries, stigma and discrimination is hampering an effective response to it. This puts people living with HIV at great risk of human rights violations. In the context of HIV and AIDS, there are still a number of punitive laws in Pacific Island countries that reinforce social stigma and undermine access to HIV and AIDS services.

Highlights

  • UNDP reviewed laws affecting people living with HIV in 15 Pacific Island countries.
  • 34 million people live with HIV around the world.
  • In 2011, UNDP provided $275 million in HIV-response assistance to 46 countries.

To address these challenges, UNDP partnered with international donors including Australia and New Zealand, regional organizations, government and civil society in an effort to create a safer and more protective environment for people living with HIV in the Pacific Islands so they can have better access to quality HIV and AIDS services. 

To begin with, the programme conducted legal research that meticulously reviewed how legislation in 15 Pacific Island countries impacts people living with and affected by HIV. The research also looked at options for promoting human rights based legislative reform in these countries and at promoting good practices within the region.

Based on these research findings, the initiative—with the cooperation of the countries’ Ministers of Health and Attorneys-General—began reaching out to religious leaders and activists in addition to excluded and marginalized communities of sex workers, gay men and transgendered people, the disabled and people living with HIV. 

In 2009, Fiji removed its discriminatory ‘sodomy law’ from its penal code; the same year it requested UNDP support for a human rights compliant HIV and AIDS law. In August 2011, a law that met such criteria was introduced. Over the past couple of years, thanks to constructive engagement with government, civil society and networks of people living with HIV, Pacific Island countries are realizing the importance of human rights for a more effective response to HIV and AIDS.

Recently J. returned to her village and was accepted back by her community. “It took time for me to feel confident and empowered again, actually the fear was as much in me as in the others,” J. said in a recent interview. She has joined a network of people living with HIV, is on treatment and has become an HIV and AIDS advocate. “I had to go back to them. It is an irresistible force, and together we are stronger.” 

* J.’s full name is not being used to protect her identity.