HIV :: Number of People with HIV in Latin America and the Caribbean Rises to 2 Million

Almost two million people with HIV live in Latin America and the Caribbean today, and the number of new infections in 2006 rose to 167,000, 12,000 more than in 2004, according to the new AIDS Epidemic Update, an annual report on the latest developments in the epidemic released today by UNAIDS/WHO. By the end of 2006, the total number of people with the virus was estimated to reach 1,950,000, 210,000 more than in 2004, the report said.

The Caribbean remains the second most affected sub-region in the world, after Sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately 1.2 percent of the population, 250,000 people, is living with HIV in the sub-region, a 0.1 percent increase from 2004. Nearly three quarters of them are in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, but HIV prevalence is high throughout the sub-region. The Caribbean?s largely heterosexual epidemics occur in the context of harsh gender inequalities and are being fuelled by a thriving sex industry, which services both local and foreign clients, according to the report.

In Latin America, the average prevalence is 0.5 percent. However, estimated HIV prevalence is higher in countries of Central America, where it is just under 1 percent in El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama, and 1.5 percent in Honduras. HIV transmission is occurring in the context of factors common to most of Latin America: widespread poverty and migration, insufficient information about epidemic trends outside major urban areas, and homophobia.

?The future course of the world?s HIV epidemics hinges in many respects on the behaviors young people adopt or maintain, and the contextual factors that affect those choices,? said Dr. Patricio Rojas, head of the HIV Unit of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). ?Young people should be empowered to make the right choices about their sexual life, and should be motivated to take the HIV test?.

The good news is that access to treatment and care has greatly increased in recent years. As of June 2006, it was estimated that 345,000 people were receiving anti-HIV treatment with antiretrovirals in Latin America in the Caribbean. These represent 75 percent of those in need, the highest coverage in the developing world.

A small decrease in the number of deaths due to HIV in the Caribbean, from 21,000 in 2004 to 19,000 in 2006, was observed for the first time in the history of the regional epidemic. But, in Latin America, in spite of greater access to treatment, the numbers of deaths rose from 53,000 to 65,000 in the same period. This means that, on average, 200 people die due to HIV every day in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Some promising news from the region, however, notes that more people are getting tested for HIV. Across the world, only one in eight people who want to be tested are currently able to do so. Knowing one?s HIV status is key for timely access to treatment and for prevention of further HIV transmission.

In Latin America and Caribbean countries voluntary counseling and testing services are rapidly expanding. Some countries in the region not only provide free access to these tests, but are actively promoting demand, through so-called ?Know Your Status? campaigns. Countries that developed these initiatives include Brazil, El Salvador, Belize, Trinidad and Suriname. During 2006, more than one million people were tested in 28 countries that reported to PAHO.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) was established in 1902 and is the world’s oldest public health organization. It serves as the regional office of the World Health Organization, and works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples.

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