The head of the U.N.'s AIDS prevention program warned Pacific nations on Monday that they face a new wave of HIV infection, saying that Papua New Guinea requires urgent action to avoid going "the African way."
UNAIDS executive director Peter Piot said the number of HIV and AIDS cases threatens to snowball in the Pacific, a development he said would not only take a significant human toll but potentially add to the region's economic woes and increase political instability. "The history of the AIDS epidemic has taught us that once things start moving, it's like a snowball, and it's going to get worse and worse," he said.
"The stage is set for an expanding and widespread HIV epidemic in the region due to a dramatic increase in sexually transmitted infections and risky sexual behavior among young people aged 15 to 25," he said.
Piot said Papua New Guinea and the neighboring Indonesian province of Irian Jaya were the most affected, with HIV infection rates up to 10 times higher than other Pacific nations. "PNG needs a very, very vigorous response; otherwise, it will go the African way," he said. In some African nations almost 40% of the population are HIV-positive, with rates rising to 60% in the hardest-hit regions.
Piot said there is a reluctance to acknowledge the problem in many Pacific nations because sexual matters are regarded as taboo. But he said attitudes appear to be changing and that UNAIDS is holding AIDS prevention workshops with Fiji's Great Council of Chiefs this week bringing together representatives from 16 Pacific nations.