Although the rate
of new HIV infections is leveling off in parts of Latin
America, health officials urged the world to keep supporting
programs to fight the disease and keep those with the
virus alive. At a Thursday briefing hosted by the
United Nations AIDS agency, health officials from
Latin American countries discussed their accomplishments and
challenges in fighting HIV.
''We ask you not
to delay this aid to our countries...because HIV does
not allow delays, does not allow budgets. People are
suffering, people are dying,'' said El Salvador's vice
minister of health, Jose Ernesto Navarro Marin.
Delivering HIV assistance to those who need it most has been
''an extremely complex process'' in Latin America, he said.
According to UNAIDS, more than half of the
estimated 1.7 million people living with HIV in Latin
America live in the four largest countries: Argentina,
Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. But prevalence of the virus is
highest in smaller countries, such as El Salvador,
Guatemala, Panama, Honduras, and Belize.
The proliferation of HIV in Latin America has
largely been fueled by factors such as poverty,
migration, insufficient information about prevention,
and ''rampant homophobia,'' according to UNAIDS.
Injection-drug users and male homosexuals, however, are the
communities with the most recent outbreaks of the epidemic.
''Unprotected sex between men remains a
significant factor in HIV transmission and accounts
for nearly half of the sexually transmitted HIV
infections in Brazil,'' according to a 2006 UNAIDS report.
''As HIV spreads from the most-at-risk populations to
other lower-risk populations, women are increasingly
Health officials at the briefing agreed that
education in universities and schools had played a
large role in reducing the number of new infections
for Latin American countries, citing Brazil's emphasis on
treatment and prevention, which includes free HIV testing
for some groups, including pregnant women.
''Years ago it used to be a taboo talking about
sex education. Now things have changed in the last
seven or eight years, young people understand
better,'' Marin said. (Tracee Herbaugh, AP)