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HIV patients suffer from lack of resources and stigma in Venezuela – AIDS Agency

HIV patients suffer from lack of resources and stigma in Venezuela – AIDS Agency

Behind the massive political, economic and social crisis into which Venezuela has been plunged, and which has prompted more than 7 million people to leave the country, another drama is unfolding without attracting the same amount of attention, that of the nearly 100,000 Venezuelans infected with HIV, who still… infected with HIV. So much for fighting for their rights.

The lack of a widespread prevention campaign coupled with prejudice and discrimination are factors that limit access to treatment in the country. Figures from the United Nations AIDS Program indicate that about 36,000 people are not receiving treatment for HIV.

The country has not conducted awareness campaigns about the virus in years, leaving more than 28 million people without guidance. The problem is exacerbated by a shortage of doctors and nurses who specialize in treating HIV/AIDS, the high cost of living, taboos surrounding the virus, and a lack of information about care. Without state support, those affected turn to non-governmental organizations for care and guidance to deal with their health condition.

Shortage of medicine

The problem has been going on for a long time. In 2018, the most critical year of the crisis in Venezuela, the shortage of antiretrovirals reached 84% across the country. At the time, people undergoing HIV treatment did not have access to medications and rapid tests to detect the virus.

Carlos was one of them. This 62-year-old mechanic, who has been living with HIV for two decades, recalls that at the height of the crisis he had to resort to painkillers to prevent HIV from developing into AIDS:

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“I went without medication for about three months. I had to pay more attention to my diet when the queues were long due to the lack of medicine and food. When I got the pills, I continued the treatment and recovered.”

Nicolas Maduro's government insists that the country's delicate situation is due to “economic war.” When evaluating economic and social indicators, international organizations declared in 2019 that Venezuela was experiencing a humanitarian emergency. Since then, the country has begun receiving humanitarian aid from the United Nations Development Program and funding from the Global Fund to Fight HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Thanks to this donation, people infected with HIV can receive treatment. Resources are divided between the Pan American Health Organization, which buys medicines, and UNAIDS, which directs funds to foundations.

“Since 2016 and 2017, the country has not purchased antiretrovirals. There is no evidence of rapid detection. “The health system has been greatly affected by the crisis,” says Cesar Pacheco, director of the HIV response unit at the NGO Acción Solidaria.

Pacheco notes that the last anti-HIV campaign organized by the state was in 2008 and “thanks to pressure from civil society.” Since then, little has been said about prevention and care. As if the virus does not exist. According to the annual UN report on AIDS in Venezuela, 6,506 new cases were recorded in 2023. But these numbers could be higher. In the country, there are almost no prevention campaigns or early diagnosis. There are carriers of the virus who do not realize its true nature.

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There is no prenatal testing

Unlike in Brazil, the Venezuelan Ministry of Health discourages prenatal HIV testing, limiting a child's access to treatment if the pregnant woman is infected. By 2022, only 33% of pregnant women have access to antiretrovirals. Only a quarter of pregnant women are tested for HIV and syphilis, according to UN AIDS.

In addition to the rising cost of living, inflation is another factor that complicates care for people with HIV. In 2023, inflation reached 189.8%, according to the Central Bank of Venezuela. The minimum wage is equivalent to 3.66 US dollars. Without access to free antiretrovirals, it would be difficult to take care of your health to achieve a good quality of life. The cost of a box of three condoms ranges between one dollar and four dollars, while the value of the basic basket in October 2023 was about 493 dollars, according to the Center for Documentation and Social Analysis. Lymphocyte count, CD4, testing, which should be done at least once a year, costs between $40 and $130. A complete blood test costs less than $20.

Many HIV-positive mothers end up preferring to breastfeed their babies because they cannot afford formula, which can cost around US$15 (about 75 Brazilian reais).

Insufficient preparation

The lack of trained doctors and nurses is another obstacle to treatment. According to the Venezuelan Medical Federation, about 42,000 health workers have left the country in recent years due to the economic crisis. Ten years ago, Jonas discovered the positive diagnosis after running tests during the job acceptance process. The young man turned to the Public Health Service and had to struggle to access care:

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“Some doctors are ignorant. They make us feel guilty. There are doctors who don't know much about the subject or how to properly care for patients. There are people who spend months trying to get treatment,” says the 29-year-old.

Fear of stigma and discrimination is one of the factors that prompt many infected people not to seek medical care, which hinders control of the epidemic. Although this is illegal, there are employers who, during admission tests, conduct an HIV test without the job candidate's consent, and fire the person without providing explanations if the result is positive – further delaying the start of treatment and control of the disease. condition.viral Charge.

According to infectious disease specialist Maria Vicki Zabaleta, there are three factors that hinder care for people with HIV/AIDS:

“Many doctors have left the country. The Venezuelan Society for Infectious Diseases organizes training courses to teach new doctors how to recognize and treat HIV cases; on top of that, there is a shortage of hospital supplies and low salaries.”

For sociologist Betty Nunez, “the problem is rooted in bias and the absence of public policies or media campaigns related to prevention and protection (…). It is a cultural issue that, rather than preventing care, ultimately silences access to treatment.

source: the world