PANAMA CITY – Nearly half of Latin America’s HIV infected people receive medical treatment, making the region one of the most advanced in the developing world in terms of access to antiretroviral drugs, Regional Director of UNAIDS Cesar Nuñez told EFE on Tuesday.
“The most advanced region (among countries with low and mid income) in the world in providing HIV treatment is Latin America. Here, 47 percent of the sick people receive medication,” said Nuñez.
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, or UNAIDS, presented Tuesday a report in Nairobi, Kenya, on advances made, while also setting priorities for the fight against HIV over the next few decades.
In an interview with EFE, Nuñez spoke of the progress in Latin America, lauding Cuba’s fight against AIDS.
In June, Cuba became the first country in the world to receive validation from the World Health Organization for eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission, scientifically known as “vertical transmission.”
The UNAIDS report show countries with higher rates of antiretroviral coverage in Latin America are Chile (64 percent), Costa Rica (54 percent) and Panama (53 percent).
Andean countries and the Northern Triangle of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) are countries with the least antiretroviral coverage.
According to the report, most number of cases are found in the larger cities of Latin America; Lima, for example, accounts for 75 percent of Peru’s HIV infected people.
“The greatest challenge in Latin America is to provide treatment to the 53 percent who still don’t receive it,” Nuñez acknowledged.
Despite the advances, the growth of new HIV cases in the region did not decrease enough in the last 15 years.
In 2001, a total of 100,000 new cases were recorded, while in 2014 the figures reached 87,000, a drop of 13 percent.
“Thirteen percent is not enough. We must step on the accelerator,” Nuñez said.
The region proposes to reach the target of 90-90-90 in five years, implying 90 percent of the people with HIV will know their HIV status; 90 percent of those diagnosed with HIV will receive continued antiretroviral treatment, and 90 percent of the people treated will achieve viral suppression.
According to Nuñez, to achieve this goal, there is need for “more sex education” and “elimination of discrimination and stigma” that often prevents victims from going to health centers to seek treatment.
He added it’s also essential to “increase national investment” to reduce foreign dependence in countries like Guatemala, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Honduras, where at least one-third of the funds for HIV treatment comes from international donors.
The UNAIDS regional director highlighted antiretroviral therapy reduces the risk of HIV transmission by 92 percent.