The location could not be more appropriately chosen. Up to 30.000 visitors expected Mexico City for 17. International Aids Conference of 3. to 8. August. Organizers of the first meeting in Latin America call for immediate action. But it is precisely this decisiveness that is all too often lacking among the subcontinent's governments, AIDS activists say. Brazil remains a laudable exception.
Increasingly typical for Latin America is the story of Rosibel Zuniga. The 34-year-old accountant and mother of three was leading a normal, traditional family life in Costa Rica – until she was diagnosed HIV-positive. "At that time, people were already talking about AIDS and HIV," Zuniga says today, "but as if the phenomenon didn't exist in our country". Infected Zuniga was her unfaithful husband."I was never afraid of infection because I believed in a relationship based on fidelity," she explains. Zuniga is now working nationwide to help women infected with HIV. The greatest obstacle to effective AIDS prevention is the prevailing traditional morality, according to which the same rules do not apply to men and women. It is still not possible to talk openly about partnerships and sexuality, she complains. "That's why so many women are infected."Mexican AIDS expert Axela Romero speaks of a "feminization of the epidemic" in Latin America. In Mexico, for example, the proportion of HIV-positive women has doubled in recent years to 41 percent – and young women aged 18 to 25 are a particular risk group. Mexico is the country with the most infected people after Brazil: about 200.000 with a population of 103 million. HIV is no longer the problem of a few marginalized groups.
Almost 2 million HIV-positive people Nevertheless, most Latin American countries are still a long way from taking decisive action against HIV and AIDS. About 1.9 million people are HIV-positive in Latin America and the Caribbean. Of these, 117 infected themselves last year alone.000 new cases, estimates the World Health Organization.The failures start with the shameful and often unrealistic sex education of young people. In view of the AIDS conference, Jose Miguel Vivanco of the human rights organization Human Rights Watch called for "prevention without prejudice. "Governments and health authorities continue to act under the fiction or amption that young people do not have sexual relations, or that they must abstain until marriage."The consequences of half-hearted prevention are fatal. Among Mexico's young people, for example, unprotected sex is widespread, according to a survey of 13.000 schoolchildren between the ages of 15 and 19 recently showed. Studies in other countries on the continent have reached similar conclusions.
Brazil as an exception Brazil remains an exemplary exception. Since the 1990s, health authorities and self-help groups have been working closely together in Latin America's most populous country. According to the UN, Brazil is the only country that has succeeded in bringing the epidemic under control. Thanks to extensive awareness campaigns, the number of HIV-positive people has risen in recent years to around 700,000.000, out of a population of almost 190 million. The government guarantees all infected people access to free treatment.Good 200.000 AIDS patients receive life-prolonging drugs, half of which are produced in Brazilian laboratories. In order to obtain price reductions from the pharmaceutical industry, the government repeatedly threatened with patent infringements. In Brazil, decisiveness has paid off. The treatment of an AIDS patient there costs only a quarter of what it costs in Mexico, for example. This again leaves more for education and prevention.