ADB to Help Reduce Spread and Impact of HIV/AIDS in Pacific

MANILA, PHILIPPINES - ADB will help stem the spread and effects of HIV/AIDS in small Pacific islands through a new grant of US$8 million.

The project will improve management and delivery of HIV/AIDS prevention services in 10 countries - Cook Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.

Targeting vulnerable populations, it will take a three-pronged approach that includes strengthening surveillance, supporting prevention activities at community level, and targeting vulnerable groups.

"It is hoped that education campaigns will reduce high risk behavior among at risk populations in the Pacific to lower the infection rates of HIV," says Helen Baxter, an ADB Social Protection Specialist working on ADB's Pacific operations.

"And by providing better access to information and increasing understanding of the issues surrounding the disease, it will lead to more open dialogue within Pacific communities and hopefully reduce the stigma attached to infection and reduce discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS."

The Pacific region is vulnerable to the threat of HIV/AIDS, given the high presence of sexually transmitted diseases, low level of condom use, high levels of mobility and various cultural and sexual taboos in these small island nations. There are now more than 11,000 cases of HIV in the 10 countries, although actual rates are likely to be considerably higher - up to 10 times - because of low levels of surveillance.

Some Pacific countries have poorly functioning health systems, with weak capacity to operate safe blood supplies, treat sexually transmitted infections, provide counseling and testing, and prevent mother-to-child transmission.

The project will help the countries develop the skills to identify risk factors and vulnerable sectors of the population, and design and deliver surveillance programs. It will also improve countries' laboratory capacity and data collection capacity.

The community assistance will include marketing programs of condoms through mass media, launch events and peer education; and campaigns to influence and change sexual behavior. The number of facilities providing diagnosis of sexually transmitted infections will be increased and the project will help fund 20 clinics in the 10 countries.

The project will develop information and education materials and open drop-in centers that provide information on HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections for vulnerable communities such as seafarers. There will also be special training on the health issues at the region's maritime schools as well as for nongovernment organizations working with vulnerable groups.

For HIV-positive people, the project will provide livelihood skills training and also fund antiretroviral drug treatments.

The project will constitute a core part of the Pacific Regional Strategy Implementation Plan, tasked with carrying out the Pacific Regional Strategy on HIV/AIDS 2004-2008. Developed through an extensive consultative process, the strategy has been endorsed by 22 Pacific island countries and territories.

The strategy will support national efforts to prevent and control HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections and strengthen work at the regional level through improved coordination and partnership between regional organizations and national programs.

The executing agency for the project, which will be carried out over four years, will be the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, an international organization founded by government treaty serving 22 Pacific island countries.