September 8, 2006
Last month, Chile's Ministry of Health reported that heterosexuals represented 35 percent of new HIV infections reported in 2004, up from 20 percent in 1984. Young adult Chileans ages 19-24 accounted for 60 percent of STDs and 50 percent of new HIV infections.
Experts cited low condom use and a high number of sexual partners for the high STD rate among young adults. Most Chileans reported sexual debut by ages 16-17. In 2004, 35.4 percent of youths reported condom use at sexual debut, up from 13.5 percent in 1998. However, 52 percent of Chileans reported never using condoms. Most youths do not worry about catching STDs, even if they increase HIV risk. "We need public campaigns to promote condom use among Chile's youth," said Laurent Zessler, UNAIDS country coordinator.
There are 14,820 people with HIV in Chile, or 10 cases reported per 100,000 residents. However, since many people are unaware they are HIV infected, there could be up to 50,000 people with the disease in Chile, said health officials.
"Even though new infections are increasing, the acceleration of the spread is slowing down," said Consida (National AIDS Commission) Director Edith Ortiz. "At the beginning of the 90s, we thought that we were going to see explosive growth in new infections, but the pace has slowed down. Since 1996, heterosexual transmission has exploded, while homosexual transmission has stayed at stable levels."
AIDS mortality in Chile peaked in 2001, and the percentage of those who die within five years of AIDS has decreased by two-thirds. HIV/AIDS is covered under Chile's public health care system, and over two-thirds of patients needing antiretrovirals receive them. While ARVs are free through the public health system, many patients prefer to pay for them through private clinics to avoid official registration of their health status. People are often left unemployed and destitute if their HIV status is known.