Large countries like China often receive much attention and support in the fight against HIV/AIDS, but tiny Pacific islands said Thursday they must not be forgotten because even a small epidemic could decimate their populations.
About 600 new cases of HIV and 200 deaths occur daily in the World Health Organization's vast Western Pacific region, Richard Nesbit, the organization's acting regional director said at a weeklong annual meeting in Auckland, New Zealand.
The premier and health minister of the tiny Pacific island of Niue said the government there now requires HIV testing for all visitors staying longer than two months.
"It's only a matter of time before Niue gets its first case we're only less than 2,000 people," he said. "If we are eradicated from this world, wiped off the map, I'm sure that you will miss us. It's absolutely scary as a leader of a small island country."
Papua New Guinea is already facing a generalized epidemic, and its health minister said earlier in the week that isolated pockets within the country could have HIV rates as high as 30 percent.
The country, which shares an island north of Australia with Indonesia's easternmost Papua province, is the hardest-hit in the Asia-Pacific with an adult per capita infection rate of 1.8 percent, according to UNAIDS figures.
Secretary of Health Nicholas Mann said rich countries need to pay more attention to his poor island nation of 5.7 million people. He said the United States, for example, has not offered his country any funding to help fight the virus, reports AP.
He said any assistance that does arrive must be directed properly in order to make a difference in a diverse country where hundreds of languages are spoken.
"Eighty-seven percent (of the population) is rural based. That means there is no television, they don't read and there's no newspaper," Mann said, adding the government has beefed up domestic HIV/AIDS funding. "What messages we need to get out, cannot be done through a television campaign program. A lot of common sense thinking needs to go into it."