President of the Republic of Fiji




Suva Civic Centre, Suva Saturday, 1st December, 2012 10.00am

The Minister for Health, Dr Neil Sharma
The UN Representative H.E. Dr Isiye Ndombi
The UNAIDS Coordinator for the Pacific, Tim Rwabuhemba
The CEO of the Red Cross, Filipe Nainoca
Members of the National HIV Board
Representatives of Key Donor Agencies
Representatives of Civil Society Organizations
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentleman
Good morning, ni sa bula vinaka and namaskar.

Let me start by thanking all of you who joined me in the walk this morning.

As the Health Advisors say, it is always great to begin your day with some exercise. This morning’s walk is significant because we have reinforced the message that good health through eating right and exercising will lead to a longer and happier life-span, irrespective of whether or not you have HIV and aids.

The World Aids Day which is observed on the 1st of December globally is dedicated to raising awareness on HIV and aids.

It was first conceived in 1987 by two public information officers for the global program on aids at the world health organization (who) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1988, the then Director of WHO’s global program on aids, dr Jonathan Mann, initiated the observation of the first world aids day.

Here in Fiji, World Aids Day was first observed in 1989.

Since then, government and its partners including donors and civil society organizations, among others, have ensured that world aids day is celebrated annually.

As the President of Fiji and as Fiji’s special representative on HIV and Aids, an appointment which I am more than happy to perform on behalf of the government, the National HIV Board and the people of fiji, I take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of all the stakeholders in your untiring efforts towards Fiji’s response to HIV and aids.

Today we recognize the global achievements in the fight against the spread of HIV, and we also highlight the progress that Fiji has made.

From the recently released UNAIDS report specifically developed for World Aids Day 2012, we note that 25 countries in the world have been able to achieve more than 50% reduction in new HIV infections. Fiji, sadly is not one of those countries.

We also note that access to antiretroviral therapy increased by 63% in the last 24 months and the number of aids-related deaths reduced by more than 25% in the six years from 2005 to 2011. In other words, fewer people are dying from Aids.

Many of you will remember Mr. Michel Sidibe, the Executive Director of UNAIDS who visited Fiji in March of this year. Mr. Sidibe said, and I quote: “the pace of progress is quickening, and what used to take a decade is now being achieved in 24 months,” unquote.

Mr. Sidibe is encouraging all countries around the world to strengthen our HIV programmes in order to save more lives. The positive results of improving the response to HIV and Aids is becoming increasingly visible.

However, Mr. Sidibe also warned that we are running out of time to meet the global target to achieve zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero aids-related deaths. In fact, we now have only one-thousand days to achieve the global target.

While the global response to HIV and Aids has collectively resulted in a decline in new HIV infections, Fiji, as of June 2012, has already reported 30 new cases.

This is expected to increase by the end of the year that we could overtake our highest year, total of 53 last year 2011 – so the omens are not good as there are too many cases of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). Fiji now has a cumulative total of 449 cases since 1989.

Of the 30 new cases, heterosexual transmission accounted for 90 percent; perinatal transmission, or what is commonly known as mother to child transmission, or vertical transmission, accounted for five percent; while men having sex with men accounted for three percent.

The cause of transmission for the remaining two percent remains unknown.

However, despite the increase in new HIV infections, we have also seen a corresponding increase in the number of patients on antiretroviral therapy by over 110 percent. Fiji had 53 patients who were on anti-retroviral therapy in 2011, but we now have close to 112 patients on anti-retroviral therapy.

Globally, we have seen impressive gains in reducing tuberculosis or TB-related aids deaths. We can also say the same for Fiji where we have not had any TB/HIV related deaths in the last two years.

In further analyzing the new HIV cases in fiji, 47 percent of these were within the age group of 15-29, the youth, the bulk of the labour force, the most sexually active and the most vulnerable.

This is of great concern especially with sexually transmitted infections still very much on a high from the second generation surveillance studies that had been carried out in fiji and the pacific. The failure to use protection, that is the use of condoms, is one of the main reasons for this increase.

The goal of reducing new HIV infections among children and keeping their mothers alive is achievable. What this requires is for women to book early their partners must assist in this, and be counseled on HIV testing.

The statistics reveal that we in Fiji must strengthen our campaign towards zero new HIV infections, a challenging goal that demands smart thinking, strategic planning including the up-scaling of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) services and preventative measures, and most definitely an increase in funding, among others.

On a positive note, our cases may be increasing but this also goes to show that more people are being tested and this has eventuated from the continual prevention programs in the country.

We also know that the pillars of leadership, partnership and ownership of the response to HIV and Aids have brought us this far, and with the ongoing partnership between all stakeholders we can make significant progress towards achieving the millennium development goals and the three zeros: zero new infections, zero discrimination, and zero aids-related deaths.

Fiji’s commitment towards this global target has so far resulted in the following:

world recognized law: the HIV Decree which is a human rights based measure to protect the infected and affected;
the National Strategic Plan 2012-2015 which is looking at four key priority areas in relation to HIV/Aids and inclusive of sexually transmitted infections for the first time;
increased anti-retroviral therapy procurement and a significant increase in the number of patients on treatment for HIV. Fiji has not run out of medications in the last two years despite the increase in number of patients on treatment. And it will not!
implementing the new HIV algorithm which will bring confirmation of HIV testing in the sub-divisions by the new year;
working closely with the positive network to help in advocacy with regards to stigma and discrimination issues around the country;
including HIV/STI education in the school curriculum in collaboration with the ministry of education;
having a framework of health service delivery which will meet the needs of the key affected populations which includes youths, men who have sex with men (MSM) and sex workers;
continual strengthening and up scaling of Prevention of Parent to Child Transmission of HIV (PPTCT) by reviewing its current training manuals and reviewing the policy for PPTCT; and
my personal visits to secondary schools throughout the country to address the most vulnerable age group on the issues of HIV and Aids. I have visited 25 secondary schools and spoken with over 12,000 students. I intend to visit the remaining 152 secondary schools in 2013.
The achievements Fiji has made in the last two years have paved the way towards reaching both the national and global targets of zero new infections; zero discriminations; and zero Aids related deaths.

But, we still need to upscale what we see is working and bring in new innovative ideas that we know can work. The thing about HIV advocacy is that we already know what works and what does not work.

The campaign towards the Millennium Development Goals and the 2015 targets for the Un Declaration on HIV and Aids calls for the continual leadership and partnership between government, civil society organizations, the United Nations agencies, he media, families, friends and all members of the public. The nation as a whole must own the response to HIV and Aids. This is paramount.

I have every confidence that Fiji can achieve the global target and in the process provide a more caring, loving and forgiving environment for all our people. One of our greatest success stories is where one of the first four HIV patients is still alive and well today: 23 years after contracting HIV. This is the result of collaborate work among the stakeholders.

At this juncture, I wish to acknowledge the lead role of the Ministry of Health in committing to mark this global event on the national calendar and reminding Fiji that the fight against the spread of HIV and Aids must continue.

The Ministry of Health has also contributed to the budget lines along with other donor agencies to help reach those goals. And as a country, we need to be prepared to own the response in totality as global funding will eventually cease.

Ladies and gentlemen, I earlier highlighted the fact that we now have a Strategic Development Plan on HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, for the years 2012 to 2015.

This morning, apart from celebrating World Aids Day, I am honoured to also launch the Strategic Plan.

The plan was initiated by the Ministry of Health and supported by UNAIDS through a series of consultations with respective stakeholders around Fiji. Consultations have seen the participation of donor agencies, civil society organizations, faith-based organizations, community networks and government, through the relevant agencies.

Fiji’s first National Strategic Plan was developed for 2004-2006, after the first Pacific Regional Strategy and Implementation Plan of 2004-2006. The second National Strategic Plan was developed for the years 2007-2011.

The key priority areas in implementing the 2012-2015 National Strategic Plan include:

Priority 1: prevention of HIV and STI transmission
Priority 2: continuum of care
Priority 3: governance and co-ordination
Priority 4: monitoring, evaluation and research
This means that the National Strategic Plan commits to addressing gender, human rights, stigma and discrimination in each of the four priority areas.

I commend to the nation, our third National Strategic Plan 2012-2015.

Thank you, vinaka vakalevu and bahoot dhanyavaad.