UN experts said recently that the AIDS epidemic is stable in Latin America and the Caribbean. However, they are concerned about a "worrying wave of conservatism, notably with restrictions to access to condoms, for example in schools," said Pedro Chequer, UNAIDS coordinator in Brazil.
"Conservative religious groups, Catholic and non-Catholic, view the distribution of condoms as something wrong from a moral and religious standpoint," Chequer said.
An estimated 1.6 million residents of Latin America were living with AIDS last year, including 230,000 in the Caribbean, according to a UNAIDS global report. The agency also noted that last year 99,000 people became infected with HIV in the region, where broad use of antiretroviral drugs has significantly reduced mortality.
In the early 2000s, 63,000 people died of AIDS every year in Latin America, compared with 57,000 in 2011. That figure in Central America and the Caribbean fell by half, from 20,000 in 2001 to 10,000 last year. Chequer said that with greater access to drug treatment, AIDS has stopped being "a death sentence to become a chronic condition."
Chequer also commented on AIDS stigma in Latin America, saying that "there is a certain reluctance to face this problem head-on." He said that Brazil was one of the countries which record the biggest numbers of homophobic crimes. "In 2011 alone, there were 280 crimes, well ahead of Mexico and the United States," he said.
UNAIDS pointed out that Brazil produces 10 AIDS drugs and distributes them to African and Latin American countries. It also distributes free condoms and is opening a drug manufacturing plant in Mozambique.
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