HIV Epidemic in Latin America, Caribbean: Making Progress

Increased access to drugs and education are paying off.

An update by the Pan American Health Organization cites progress in Latin America, Caribbean in the fight against HIV and AIDS. It embraced the Getting To Zero theme for World AIDS Day.

Right before World AIDS Day 2012, a colorful exhibit was launched at the Pan American Health Organization's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Argentine artist Fabian Rios Rubino's United Colors of HIV, previously on display at the Embassy of Argentina, is a colorful acrylic mix, a veritable rainbow.

It was inspired by a controversial 1991 United Colors of Benetton ad campaign showing AIDS activist David Kirby on his deathbed, surrounded by family.

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The bright colors of Rubino's work are meant to point out a new day, a new view and continued progress against HIV and AIDS—and how far some parts of the world have come since 1991.

It was the perfect backdrop for the PAHO statistical update on HIV and AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean, released to coincide with World AIDS Day.

The face of HIV/AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean is changing, thanks to widespread access to anti-retroviral drugs as well as prevention education, according to PAHO.

Between 2005 and 2011, the number of AIDS deaths dropped by 20 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In some countries, the decline is even higher, according to the UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report. For instance, deaths in the Dominican Republican dropped 61 percent from 2005 to 2011.

There's more good news: Both Latin America and the Caribbean now have the highest level of anti-retroviral treatment coverage of any mid- to low-income region in the world, PAHO officials say.

In Latin America, about 68 percent of people who need treatment now get it.

In the Caribbean, it's 67 percent.

Globally, 8 million of the 14.8 million people eligible for HIV treatment are on it, according to the UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report 2012.

Mother-to-infant transmission of HIV is down, too, by 32 percent in the Caribbean since 2001 and by 24 percent in Latin America.

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The advances are due to an all-encompassing approach, according to Dr. Gina Tambini, PAHO area manager for family and community health.

"These new developments reinforce the importance of an integrated approach toward HIV prevention, treatment and care, and alignment with programs and services for maternal and child health, sexual and reproductive health, adolescent health, and others," she says in a statement.

Within the Americas epidemic, each country faces a unique situation, according to an overview of HIV and AIDS in Latin America produced by Avert, a U.K.-based AIDS and HIV charity.

For instance, the  ''machismo'' culture can make some Latin America countries downplay the extent of their HIV infections among men having sex with men, sometimes not targeting them in prevention efforts.

Yet, in other countries—Mexico and Peru are given as examples—high-profile residents have acknowledged their orientation and that the epidemic there is driven at least partially by men having sex with men.

Poverty, a shortage of resources, and dependence on non-governmental funding to stop and prevent HIV/AIDS have slowed progress, Avert says.

In 2011, according to the UNAIDS 2012 Global Report, 1.7 million died of AIDS-related causes globally. Another 2.5 million became newly infected. In all, 34 million are infected, but half do not know their status.

Despite those challenges, PAHO officials contend that progress will continue. The name of the World AIDS Day 2012 theme—Getting to Zero—says it all.

That goal includes no new infections, no deaths and no discrimination.

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