Pacific | HIV

Marching for equity for HIV-positive community

Caption: L-R: Charlie Peters, Sonya Ama Temata-Vakatini and Lance Lee marching with Body Positive Inc. at the Auckland Rainbow Parade. Source: Sonya Ama Temata-Vakatini

Long-time Māori Pasifika human rights activist in the LGBTQIA+ space Sonya Ama Temata-Vakatini proudly walked in the Auckland Rainbow Parade last weekend advocating for the queer community.

Temata-Vakatini, a mana wāhine of Cook Islander, Māori and Tahitian descent, marched alongside Body Positive Inc, a peer support organisation founded by and run for people living with HIV in Aotearoa.

“This year I am marching with Body Positive. I have led, worked and supported so many community organisations especially our takataapui Māori and Pasifika Rainbow whānau here in Aotearoa, Sydney Mardi Gras and our own Ipukarea (homeland), in the Cook Islands during the decriminalisation legislative changes.”

Temata-Vakatini has had an extensive professional career as a HIV nurse specialist, a sexual assault forensic nurse and many other roles.

“The main reason I am supporting Body Positive is because in all those years, I’ve had friends and whānau supported by this amazing non governmental organisation. I’ve also seen many live full lives and many who have died.”

She says the reason she is supporting Body Positive is because equity has not happened yet.

Rarotonga HIV

“One particular reason I am supporting BP this year is to raise awareness for our own HIV+ community back home in Rarotonga, who don’t have the same rights or privileges as others do. Even to this day we don’t have the appropriate resources for our Rainbow LGBTQIA+ community back home.”

Temata-Vakatini says before Covid-19 the call to move back to her motherland was strong as Cook Islands had its first known HIV positive case back in 2018.

“Before Covid I looked after the first known HIV-positive Cook Islander back in 2018. She is part of our Rainbow akavaine (transgender) community. I was the only HIV nurse expert on the Island, so this was one of the many reasons why I went back home and, when your tupunas call you back, you don’t say no.”

Temata-Vakatini says the member of the Rainbow akavaine community experienced heavy discrimination when she sought medical assistance and medical supplies when she had returned to live in Rarotonga.

Denied access

“In 2012 she moved back to Rarotonga and, when she ran out of her HIV antiretroviral medications, she went to seek medical care in Rarotonga. Instead she was denied access to HIV treatment and care.”

Temata-Vakatini says the Rainbow akavaine community member was told ‘to go back to New Zealand and, if anyone found out, it would have caused a huge uproar. Her fundamental rights to healthcare services were denied.

Temata-Vakatini says the woman was also discriminated against for her HIV positive status along with her gender and sexuality by a non-local medical officer.

“This woman was discriminated against by some health professionals in the hospital as well as respite care in Auckland. Even when I transferred her back to Rarotonga on treatment and her viral load was undetectable, she was still treated like an outcast, even if her identity remained anonymous,” Temata-Vakatini says.

She says the Rainbow Akavaine member continues to be neglected to this day by the very systems that failed to provide her the necessary health services.

Temata-Vakatini has a simple message behind her march with Body Positive Inc. “I march for my sister back home and I also challenge others to also support your own whānau or loved one who do not have the same rights or freedoms as we all do! Love is Love.”


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