One-and-a-half million people in Latin America have HIV. There are numerous barriers to receiving treatment in Latin America, though this varies by country. Poverty, homophobia, and stigma prevent many people in Latin America from getting proper HIV/AIDS treatment. It’s important to note that each country in Latin America faces different types of challenges in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Overall the epidemic in Latin America is stable. According to UNAIDs statistics, there were 83,000 new infections in 2011, which is lower than previous years. In 2011, AIDS related deaths were trending down.
High risk groups affected by HIV/AIDS
- Men who have sex with men (MSM) are the largest percentage of people in Latin America infected with HIV. There is a lot of homophobia in Latin America, which prevents activism in many countries in the region.
- HIV transmission is common among sex workers and their patrons. There are higher rates of HIV among street sex-workers. Countries like Bolivia and Ecuador have low infection rates among sex workers because of condom use and STI testing check-ups.
- Intravenous drug users (IVDU) are often infected with HIV. Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay are countries where intravenous drug use is a common cause of the spread of HIV. Brazil successfully implemented a needle exchange programs, which lowered the prevalence of HIV among injecting drug users.
- HIV infection is high among migrants in Latin America who move from country to country because of poverty and violence in their home countries.
Access to care for patients with HIV and AIDS in Latin America
In the late 1990’s, Highly Active Antiretroviral therapy (HAART) became available in Latin America for the treatment of HIV. In 2008, a little over half of the people who needed HIV medication received the medication they needed (clarification needed). This rate exceeded that of other countries with similar levels of poverty. Brazil in particular has been very successful in treating patients living with HIV and providing access to HAART. As a result, AIDS related deaths have dropped significantly in Brazil. Rates of treatment for HIV are relatively high in Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, and Venezuela compared with Honduras, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, where less than half of the people who need HAART receive it. Rural people with HIV/AIDS, in particular, are less likely to receive the proper medical treatment. According to UNAIDS statistics, less than 20% of people in Bolivia receive proper medical care for HIV.
Latin American countries with inadequate treatment of HIV/ AIDS
Columbia is an unstable country facing political challenges including economic decline, violence, murder, and drug trafficking. Both the left wing guerrilla groups and right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia treat gay men poorly. In Colombia, gay men are particularly affected by HIV/AIDS. Several political groups are responsible for creating HIV stigma in Columbia which impedes the creation of prevention programs and treatment. Some of these political groups are violent, such as the AUC who have announced that HIV positive people should abandon Barrancabermeja (clarification) in the next day. The AUC is also known to oppresses many younger gay men, committing hate crimes against them. Other groups such as the FARC have forced people that live in the neighborhoods they take over to take HIV tests.
In Honduras HIV is mainly spread through heterosexual sex. There is an extreme epidemic among the Garifuna, who are descendants of Nigerian slaves. Both poverty and the lack of access to healthcare have put Garifuna at risk for HIV infection. Garifuna face tremendous prejudice as a minority group and as a group with high levels of HIV.
Guatemala’s Mayan community, considered to be a minority group, is thought to be at an increased risk of HIV infection. On average, they have less access to healthcare, lower economic status, and more language barriers than other Guatemalans. Historically, health campaigns in Guatemala for indigenous groups have been known to be culturally inappropriate.
Nicaragua is less affected by HIV/AIDS than other Latin American countries. However, there are concerns that the lack of condom usage and the lack of HIV testing available in Nicaragua will impede the detection of new cases.
Public health successes in Latin America
- Increase in life expectancy of people living with HIV
- Significant reduction in the transmission from mother to baby HIV infections
- Many Latin Americans are knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS
- Harm reduction programs, such as needle exchange programs, have been implemented in many Latin American countries
- Surveys show increasing condom usage in Latin American countries
- Many medical tests and care are available
- AIDS activisism is strong in Latin America especially by those affected by the disease
Future of HIV treatment in Latin America
Increasing harm reduction programs, condom access, educational campaigns is essential to help prevent HIV from spreading. Further, HIV testing is paramount to diagnosing infected individuals early. Additionally, foreign aid is needed to help improve healthcare infrastructure to facilitate early diagnosis and treatment. Further, work needs to be done to counteract stigma, which is a major barrier to care in many Latin American countries.