GENEVA – Tests to detect HIV infection should be available to everyone in Latin America so patients can start antiretroviral therapy as early as possible, said the UNAIDS ambassador for the region and first lady of Panama, Lorena Castillo.
“The most serious aspect in the current situation is that we don’t know how many people are seropositive because they don’t get tested. Everyone should have access to free tests to determine their status,” Castillo said in an interview with EFE.
Castillo, who is attending the World Health Assembly in Geneva as ambassador from Latin America to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, has become a spokeswoman for the UNAIDS “Zero Discrimination” campaign.
The difficulties in getting access to the diagnostic tests arise, in part, from lack of health clinics, particularly in poor areas, but also from the stigmatization of the disease and the high-risk populations it mostly affect, Castillo said.
Some 19 percent of HIV-positive women in Panama, according to the campaign, were pressured by a health-care professional to go through with sterilization, and 25 percent were advised not to have children.
The advice for women not to have children rose to 48 percent of seropositive women in Costa Rica; 42 percent in Colombia; 37 percent in Mexico; and 36 percent in Guatemala.
Fourteen percent of HIV-positive patients in Panama and Costa Rica have lost their jobs because of their condition, and one in five people who tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS in Mexico felt compelled to change their addresses.
“That is why many people do not go through with the testing,” Castillo said, adding that the disease is commonly associated with high-risk groups who are already marginalized, like sex workers, homosexuals and transsexuals.