CARACAS – Some 8,000 Venezuelans with HIV have been forced into exile in search of antiretroviral treatments to survive.
The deep economic crisis Venezuela grapples with means those who suffer from HIV have to seek help beyond the country or wait for a depleted health system to administer the drugs they need.
Miguel Subero, originally from the central city of Valencia but who now resides in Mexico, got diagnosed six years.
“I went to a surgery because of a skin problem and they told me that I should have more tests.
“I did them in a laboratory at my university and when they gave me the result, in front of many people and in a cold manner, they told me that I had the virus,” he recalled.
The 25-year-old now works as a psychologist with people with HIV and is coordinator of the Regional Network of Youth with HIV in Latin America and the Caribbean.
When he found out he was HIV positive, he was forced to travel to Caracas, where he was only guaranteed four months of treatment.
“After that, the doctor told me that he could only give me three boxes of the medicine that had expired which would only work a little longer because the molecule is degenerating,” Subero added.
This is a regular occurrence in Venezuela where most people with HIV fail to get medical treatment.
Subero left for Colombia and arrived in Medellin, but with no residence permit getting hold of medications became even harder.
“A friend helped me get them and I had to pay 200,000 pesos ($57).
“The person who sold it also had HIV but he had decided not to take the treatment.
“That made me feel so bad, but at the same time I thought about my own life,” Subero added.
After a stint in Colombia working in a nursing home, he was able to save enough money to travel to Mexico where, through the Condesa Clinic Sanctuary Program, he was able to access treatment.
It is thought that 80,000 of the 120,000 Venezuelans with HIV do not receive adequate treatment.
Manuela Bolivar, a lawmaker for the Popular Will party, told Efe that for four years tests have not been carried out with enough frequency to determine how far the virus has spread.
“They have to resort to private laboratories, where it is highly expensive to perform these tests.
“Only 40 percent of the treatment provided by the Global Fund is available,” which means there is a 60 percent supply shortage to treat HIV.
Subero added that young people are particularly at risk and that 16 percent of young people aged between 15 and 25 have HIV.
The Stop HIV NGO said that between 300,000 and 1.2 million Venezuelans could be unaware of or hiding their condition.
Venezuelan HIV sufferers often flock to Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Mexico to source antiretrovirals.
In Peru, there are 1,500 Venezuelan migrants who receive the free treatment that the state grants to HIV carriers, while in Brazil, although no exact data is known, any migrant or refugee can access the public healthcare system.
According to figures from the Ministry of Health in Colombia, there are 147,000 people with HIV, of which 1,400 are Venezuelan migrants.
While in Ecuador, where there is no accurate data on the Venezuelan population, the government estimates that there are about 500 foreign citizens living with HIV who are being treated.
The Condesa Clinic in Mexico treated 941 foreign patients, of which 26.3 percent were Venezuelans.
“Today whoever has HIV and is beyond these borders requires help and it is necessary to understand that Venezuelans are not mere migrants but refugees,” Bolivar decried.
The UNAIDS agrees and has made a call for a regional action plan to deal with the crisis.
According to the UN, 37.9 million people worldwide live with HIV.