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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
AIDS Strategy Praised, Criticized
Gary Marx
October 28, 2003
Chicago Tribune (10.26.03) - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

With HIV infection rampant in the Caribbean, Cuba has the lowest rate in the region - .05 percent, officials say. Cuba's aggressive campaign against HIV/AIDS involves universal treatment for those who test positive, but it also closely monitors the lives of patients.

In the early 1980s, Cuban officials noticed that soldiers returning from Angola had a mysterious illness. The government tracked down Cubans who had served in Africa since the 1970s, administered more than 100,000 HIV tests, and checked all blood donations. By 1986, 99 HIV-positive people were quarantined at the nation's first HIV/AIDS sanitarium.

Critics condemn the government's program for limiting individual civil liberties by isolating patients and separating them from their families. Most HIV-positive Cubans are required to stay in a sanitarium for at least three months, and can leave only with staff permission. However, some health officials laud the campaign's effectiveness. "I have enormous praise for what they've done," said Peggy McEvoy, a former UNAIDS official in the Caribbean. "It provides an object lesson in what a socialist government can do when they want to do it." Today, about 800 of the 3,892 HIV-positive Cubans live in the island's 14 sanitariums. Patients deemed at low risk of infecting others may eventually leave. Any Cuban infected with HIV must take a course in the fundamentals of the illness and how to prevent its spread.

The government also runs an extensive outreach program with television advertisements and volunteers distributing educational materials and condoms. Cuba provides antiretrovirals, but some patients say that vitamins, antibiotics and other necessary drugs are prohibitively expensive and in short supply. The overall HIV infection rate in Cuba remains low, but an increase in recent years has health officials concerned about the spread of HIV among bisexual men.