10 January, 2011 – MSM Global Forum
Health Dept Threatens to Release Name of PLHIV for Public Safety
Kia Orana friends,
Some of you will be aware that the Cook Islands has been in the unfortunate situation of having our first HIV+ diagnosis about a month ago. Since then the team of workers on the ground have been able to implement our planning and preparation for this day to the best of our ability and we feel that we are managing well and supporting our PLWH. However we have had to fight some major battles along the way, of which we thought we had contained. That is the Director of Public Health feels that it is important to release the particulars of this person for ‘public safety’.
Crown law have advised him against this as have the National HIV committee.. see attached the press release we sent to the newspaper after the previous weeks front page headlines saying the Minister of Health and the Director were considering the release of this person’s name etc. We had a positive meeting with the new Minister last week and felt this issue had been resolved only to find in yesterday’s paper the attached front page which some outrageous ideas. Understandably our PLWH is terrified and extremely worried and I seek your support to help us advocate for their rights.
I have asked our Director of Public Health who is driving this stance to seek counsel with others in the region to discuss his thoughts and to hear from others about why this his thinking is not recommended however he won’t entertain the idea of discussing this with anyone. I am not sure what else to do when he won’t listen to those of us here either. Therefore I am asking for you all to respond to this front page item by sending a letter to the editor so that at least in some way he, and the PM, will get some informed ideas and so will the public. To get into the paper before the National HIV Committee meets with caucus on Tuesday the letters will have to be received today. We appreciate your support.
Meitaki maata e kia manuia
HIV and STI Coordinator
HIV, STI, TB, Committee
Tupapa Outpatients Clinic
Cook Islands Ministry of Health
PO Box 109, Rarotonga
January 12, 2011 – "Ken Moala"
Cook Islands Prime Minister Calls for HIV Protection
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister, the Honourable Henry Puna, and his Cabinet met with the National HIV, STI and TB Committee and requested that Government and the Committee work together to address the issue of the Cook Islands first HIV diagnosis and the general issue of HIV prevention in the Cook Islands. Cabinet were pleased with the discussions with the Committee who provided a briefing on the current policies that the Committee and the Ministry of Health have in place to address HIV such as the National Strategic Plan for HIV and STIs and the National HIV and STI Policy which are based on the Cook Islands commitments to regional and international agreements on HIV and AIDS.
The Committee informed Cabinet that the Cook Islands systems will be able to manage HIV successfully and that the Ministry of Health’s clinical and support staff have had considerable training in the area of HIV. The Committee stressed that disclosure of information on those infected would only give a false sense of security in the community whereby the guard is let down for everyone who is not identified publicly and that the release of names both displays and perpetuates significant misunderstanding on HIV.
Of concern to the Committee is that disclosure of a person’s information would provide significant discouragement to others coming forward for HIV testing. According to the Committee, we need to encourage everyone who has been exposed to ‘unsafe practices’ to undergo testing, for their own well being and also to reduce infectivity.
The Committee also reported to Cabinet that it has stepped up its campaign against HIV since the country’s first HIV diagnosis by intensifying public awareness, increasing blood screening and installing condom dispensing machines right across Rarotonga. They plan to further escalate prevention, education and awareness programs and blood screening. The Committee recommended that Cabinet confirm its commitment to the implementation of the National HIV and STI Policy and also engage the expertise of the Committee to provide advice to Cabinet on dealing with HIV in the Cook Islands.
Cabinet has accepted the invitation from the Committee to participate in a HIV Awareness evening at the Crown Beach next week. Following the meeting, the Prime Minister confirmed his Government’s commitment to the implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Policy and Strategic Plan and the country’s regional and international obligations, and that Government will work in collaboration with the Committee to ensure that international human rights standards are met in dealing with those with HIV and that discrimination based on HIV status does not occur in the Cook Islands.
The Prime Minister is satisfied that the Ministry of Health and the National HIV, STI and TB Committee have taken all necessary measures in guaranteeing that international best practice has been followed in the care of the infected individual. Government will continue to seek advice from the Committee on how it should address this particular case and HIV in the Cook Islands. Cabinet also tabled its concern that the general public is protected and requested the Committee take on these concerns when providing advice to Cabinet.
The Prime Minister would like to highlight to the public that HIV is not spread by people who know their HIV positive status but that it is spread by those who Do Not Know their HIV positive status and therefore engaging in ‘unsafe’ practices. “I would like to urge our people to get tested. Your confidentiality is protected. People with HIV now tend to live long lives with medication, but we cannot provide treatment if people will not come forward to be tested”, said Puna.
The Prime Minister stated that, “For a long time, the Cook Islands prided itself on being an HIV free country. Although this person is not a Cook Islander, this is an opportunity for us to test how well we can deal with HIV. As Government, we will work together with civil society to scale-up and be vigorous in our efforts of prevention, education and awareness and voluntary testing, to ensure that this disease will not spread. This is a wake-up call for our people to be safe. We cannot be complacent and each one of us must protect ourselves from unprotected sex. ”