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LATIN AMERICA
9/5/2002
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Elderly and poor HIV-positive
PEOPLE AGES 15 TO 49 WITH HIV/AIDS (end of 2001)

Country

Total

Woman (%)

Latin America

1,400,000

31

Guyana

17,000

50

Honduras

54,000

50

Belize

2,200

45

Guatemala

63,000

43

Brazil

600,000

37

Panama

25,000

35

Bolivia

4,500

27

Ecuador

19,000

27

El Salvador

23,000

27

Nicaragua

5,800

26

Costa Rica

11,000

25

Peru

51,000

25

Argentina

130,000

23

Uruguay

6,200

22

Chile

20,000

21

Mexico

150,000

21

Colombia

140,000

14

Lawyer Beatriz Pacheco, 53, has felt like a second-class citizen ever since she tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, five years ago. When it became known that the activist, who provides legal defense for people living with HIV and AIDS, was HIV-positive, someone scrawled, "Get out — this is not a charity hospital," on the wall of a building where she used to live.

When an HIV-positive employee is dismissed, discrimination can only be alleged if the person was already showing symptoms of full-blown AIDS. But testing positive for HIV is enough for anyone to be denied insurance or enrollment in a collective health plan, said Pacheco, who lives Porto Alegre in the southern Brazil. Without insurance, it is impossible to obtain a loan or home mortgage.

"I will always have to live in a rented house, because I can’t get financing to buy a home, even though, as a retired civil servant, I earn enough to guarantee my payments," Pacheco said.

Although the Health Ministry’s free distribution of anti-retroviral drugs to people with HIV and AIDS has reduced the mortality rate from the illness by nearly 50 percent (LP, July 23, 2001), Brazil still has the highest number of cases in the region.

HIV-positive women, especially those who are elderly or poor, face the greatest obstacles in fighting for their rights.

SEX WORKERS WITH HIV/AIDS (urban)

Country

Year

(%)

Guyana

2000

45.0

Brazil

1998

17.8

Guatemala

1998

4.7

Honduras

1999

2.7

Argentina

1993

2.6

Panama

1990

1.6

Peru

1998

1.6

Ecuador

2001

1.1

El Salvador

1993

1.1

Colombia

1994

0.9

Costa Rica

1995

0.9

Mexico

1999

0.3

"The government keeps us alive, but society doesn’t want it to," said Pacheco, who works with the National Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (RNP+) and the Positive Citizens Project, which was created last year to respond to the specific problems of HIV-positive women.

Among the side effects of the anti-retroviral combination drug therapy, which delays the onset of AIDS and improves the quality of life of people living with HIV, is severe osteoporosis, the progressive loss of bone mass that is most common among post-menopausal women.

Jenice Pizao, 43, national coordinator of Positive Citizens, is suffering from calcium loss in her femur and lumbar vertebrae, an indication of early-onset osteoporosis. When she needed surgery for a broken arm a year ago, one doctor refused to operate for fear of infection. Pizao said that reaction is common among physicians and dentists.

Other side effects of the drug regimen for women include lipodystrophy, the redistribution of body fat, and depression, Pizao said. Prevention of lipodystrophy requires exercise and an adequate diet, which are often impossible for low-income women, said Pizao, a retired history professor who lives in Campinas, 100 kilometers from São Paulo.

Positive Citizens, which is backed by the Health Ministry, denounces violations of the rights of women with HIV or AIDS, as well as shortcomings in their medical treatment. It also promotes the exchange of information and advises health professionals of the specific needs of female patients, such as the need for bone-density tests and Pap smears.

Pizao said that health-care personnel should be trained to respond to the specific needs of HIV-positive women. She added that little attention is given to the needs of post-menopausal women, although the rate of HIV infection is rising rapidly in that age group.

With more widespread use of drugs that combat male impotence, sexual activity, generally without condoms, has increased among older people, Pacheco said.

The Health Ministry has purchased 4 million female condoms to be distributed among what is considered the most vulnerable female population — HIV-positive women, intravenous drug users and women working in prostitution. Pacheco, however, criticized prevention campaigns that continue to target homosexuals, drug users and sex workers, rather than people in stable heterosexual relationships, among whom the AIDS rate is increasing most rapidly.

— IPS. Statistics: UNAIDS


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