29 Aug 2005

HIV/AIDs in Pacific called a dangerously powerful storm forming offshore

7:37 pm on 29 August 2005

Researchers at New Zealand's Otago University say that the Pacific region has been largely overlooked when assessments are made about the incidence of the HIV/AIDs epidemic.

Otago's AIDs Epidemiology Group says while the current prevalence across the Pacific is low, it has been likened to a dangerously powerful storm forming offshore.

It says the soaring level of infection in Papua New Guinea has been called a silent catastrophe.

The university report says there were just over 11 thousand people confirmed with HIV in the Pacific region, with over 90 percent them in PNG.

It says this figure may just be the tip of the iceberg.

It also points that the majority have acquired HIV through heterosexual contact with an almost equal proportion of men and women infected.

The researchers say the high rate of sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia, and teenage pregnancies is the key reason why they fear a much greater epidemic.

They say poor understanding of how HIV is transmitted can lead to fear and a lack of tolerance for those infected.

And the report points out that this is compounded by social taboos on open discussion of sexual matters.