HIV/AIDS in Latin America

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Latin America's Epidemic

Latin America is in the grip of a major epidemic. There are currently around 1.7 million people infected with HIV and AIDS, with around 200,000 new cases of the virus being diagnosed each year.

In 2004 alone 95,000 people died of AIDS in the region. Lack of sex education among people of all ages, poverty and poor healthcare combined are to blame.

The virus may be running rampant but geographically in South America it is very diverse. And it can also be very concentrated among high risk groups. These include homosexuals, injecting drug users and sex workers. Prostitution is rife in South America particularly among street kids and young women desperate to provide for their families.

Brazil has the highest prevalence of people living with HIV and AIDS – around 650,000, which accounts for about 40% of all cases in South America. HIV is very prevalent among injecting drug users and in some Brazilian cities more than 60% of users carry the virus.

Injecting drug users also account for 40% of new infections in Argentina, which has 120,000 people living with the virus, and 28% in Uruguay. Other countries such as Paraguay and Chile have also reported a rise among this IDU group.

In Mexico HIV is far higher among men who have sex with other men – 14% of them are currently infected. The same goes for Costa Rica where the figure is around 16%.

But it’s not just a disease for drug users, gay men or just plain irresponsible heterosexuals. HIV is hitting a whole new generation.

In very poor countries such a Guatemala and Honduras, where children are forced into prostitution because of abject poverty, the number of cases among teenagers is on the rise. In Belize nearly 5% of young girls using ante natal clinics tested positive for HIV in 2003. This figure has risen 300% since 1994.

Unfortunately in many of the Latin American countries, the true extent of the problem will never really be known because there just aren’t any surveillance methods in place to keep check.

The good thing is that several of the more populated countries in South America such as Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina, are making a concentrated effort to try and control the virus by providing anti HIV drugs for all those infected.

Certainly the various governments in these four countries are ploughing money into education and, importantly, encouraging local drugs manufacturers to produce cheaper copies of more expensive anti HIV medicines. This would allow more medicine to be handed out to more infected people. Thanks to these initiatives the lives of people with HIV will improve, they’ll live longer and the number of people dying from AIDS related illnesses should start to decline.

It will be a long process though and it will be some time before this positive step reaches everyone that needs it. Currently only half of HIV infected people living in Latin America are receiving anti HIV drugs.


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