Although Vanuatu currently has low numbers of people living with Human Immunodefiency Virus (HIV) and very high compliance with treatment, the threat of more cases remains.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) relayed this in a statement to mark World AIDS Day today. The Ministry said HIV is a public health threat to Vanuatu.

Currently, there are eight people living with HIV in Vanuatu, all of whom are on antiretroviral treatment and 90% are virally suppressed. The government, through the MOH supports clients with medication supplies and travel/or transportation to main hospitals for medical review every six months.

The MOH said it is working with partners such as Wan Smol Bag, Vanuatu Family Health Association and VPride to address inequalities that continue to be a HIV global health threat.

They are working to increase the availability, quality and suitability of services, for HIV treatment, testing and prevention, so that everyone is well-served. Also, the Ministry is working to reform practices to tackle stigma and exclusion faced by people living with HIV and by key populations, so that everyone is shown respect and feels comfortable to access services.

Partners such as World Health Organisation, United Nations Development Programme and Australian Government through the Vanuatu Health programme provide technical support, funding and training to strengthen prevention and response efforts.

“Only by working together, we can equalise access to HIV services such as testing, treatment and prevention measures such as condoms and address these inequalities which hinder progress towards ending AIDS,” the MOH stated.

According to the statement, the HIV programme is also working to increase testing, particularly for antenatal mothers and high-risk groups.

“Upskilling of healthcare workers is also ongoing to ensure that clients receive the best care possible and feel comfortable to seek care without stigma or discrimination,” the Ministry stated.

“Although we currently have low numbers of people living with HIV and very high compliance with treatment, the threat of more cases remains.

“Cautionary stories can be seen around the world, with HIV epidemics in some countries previously decreasing, now increasing again. Progress towards global goals have been hindered by numerous factors including changes in resourcing and ongoing disparity and inequity as well as discrimination and stigma.

“Despite these challenges there is hope. Persons living with HIV can access antiretroviral treatment, which is daily medication that helps control the levels of virus in the body.

“There are now many years of evidence that this treatment is extremely effective and that once people living with HIV have an undetectable viral load, they cannot transmit HIV sexually. That is; Undetectable = Untransmissible.”