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U.N. Says Latam, Caribbean Not Confronting Aids


RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Latin America and the Caribbean are facing a growing AIDS epidemic and must tackle controversial issues like gay sex and condom use if they are going to stop its spread, the United Nations web said Monday.

"The recognition that Latin America, with the exception of Brazil, is facing a growing AIDS crisis is just not there," U.N. AIDS executive director Peter Piot told reporters before a regional AIDS conference opens later Monday. "And the response is absolutely insufficient."

The Caribbean suffers from the world's second highest rate of HIV infection after sub-Saharan Africa, with 5 percent of adults in Haiti and over 4 percent in the Bahamas living with the virus. Many Latin American communities are not far behind.

The incidence of the virus among gays throughout Latin America is particularly high, for example. "The risk of eventually dying from AIDS is well over 50 percent in some of the communities...It's unacceptable," Piot said.

Rio de Janeiro is hosting a five-day forum on AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean that will focus on prevention and treatment policies. Some 1.6 million people have the HIV virus in the region and about 600 new people are infected every day.

While Brazil has become a leader in the fight against AIDS with a free drug distribution program and condom ads that address everything from the unbridled Carnival festival to gay relationships, the rest of the region has chosen to turn a blind eye, Piot said.

He pointed to the fact that in most countries in the region, less than $50,000 a year is spent on prevention targeted at gay communities. "It's a joke. It doesn't reflect the size of the epidemic in those communities."

Another stumbling block for AIDS programs in the region has been religion. While Roman Catholic countries like Spain, Italy and Piot's own Belgium have found ways to promote condom use, more conservative Latin American nations have allowed the church to stand in the way.

"In Latin America perhaps more than any other region in the world, the use of condoms as a life saving tool is controversial," he said. Still, Piot emphasized that the church has had different responses in different communities and has tended to be more supportive on a local basis.

In sum, the U.N. leader said the region has to recognize that AIDS is a growing crisis and really apply resources where they are needed. He pointed to Brazil as an example for the region and the world.

Latin America's biggest country, which had one of the highest HIV rates in the world in 1985, openly tackled the crisis, working closely with nongovernmental organizations and local officials to decide where funding would best be applied.

Despite dire predictions, HIV infection has leveled off at between 0.5 percent and 0.6 percent of Brazil's adults. The country has also challenged giant drug companies by starting to manufacture AIDS drugs at a fraction the cost. Foreign competitors have had to lower prices on the antiretroviral drugs used in AIDS cocktails by more than 70 percent.

Piot urged other countries to follow Brazil's example in effective prevention programs and said U.N. AIDS is working with governments and other agencies to try and negotiate bulk purchases of drugs for the region that would help push drug prices down to Brazil levels.


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Information in this article was accurate in November 6, 2000. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.