WHILE the focus was on World AIDS Day last Saturday, people must remember that the high rate of sexually-transmitted infections leave Pacific Islanders particularly vulnerable to HIV.
According to the Secretariat of Pacific Community (SPC) in some Pacific countries, as many as one in two young people have chlamydia, an infection that, if left untreated, can lead to serious reproductive and other health problems.
"If you have an STI, you are at greater risk of HIV due to behavioural, biological and gender-related factors," said Dr Dennie Iniakwala, HIV and STI team leader at SPC. The statement said despite the high rates of STIs across the Pacific region, there had been significant successes.
Nauru and the Cook Islands, for example, where chlamydia has been aggressively targeted, have made considerable progress.
In 2009, 49 per cent of pregnant women in Nauru had chlamydia. In the Cook Islands, it was one in five. By 2012, the proportion of pregnant women with chlamydia in Nauru and the Cook Islands dropped to 4 per cent and 10 per cent respectively.
"In Nauru, STI control measures, mass treatment for chlamydia, coupled with community awareness and education were actively used to address high STI rates, with a particular emphasis on condom promotion," said Dr Seta Vatucawaqa, director of Public Health at the Nauru Public Health Centre. "Advocacy and media collaboration were the underpinning pillars to the campaign with special care given to cultural and religious sensitivity.
"Workshops were conducted for all district leaders, youth, women's groups, church leaders, health workers, and people in work places. Brochures and posters were disseminated and key health officers delivered TV interviews."
The progress not only in Nauru and the Cook Islands, but across Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs), can be attributed to a large extent to the support provided by SPC public health specialists. In the first half of 2012, for example, SPC specialists trained 233 health workers and volunteers in HIV and STI prevention in 10 PICTs, supported the implementation of HIV testing in at least one laboratory in 12 PICTs, and provided technical assistance.