August 16, 2005
Venezuela is stepping up its HIV/AIDS prevention efforts by launching a new campaign that specifically targets women and young people; groups that are increasingly at risk for the disease worldwide. According to Health Minister Francisco Armada, Venezuela "is one of the few countries that guarantees universal access to treatment for all people with HIV/AIDS, and we are dealing with the shortfall that has existed until now with regard to prevention."
The campaign will use television and radio spots, newspaper ads, and billboards to raise HIV awareness. To complement the public-awareness ads, 1 million male and female condoms will be distributed for free in health care centers geared toward women and youth. The Health Ministry will also distribute up to 20 million condoms through public health facilities. One of the main goals of the campaign, said Deisy Matos, director of the ministry's HIV/AIDS program, "is for HIV/AIDS testing to become a routine practice for everyone, and particularly women."
According to Matos, "focusing on women in this campaign was not a random choice, but was based on concrete statistics." In the early 1990s, women accounted for one out of every 18 HIV infections in Venezuela; now they account for every one out of four, said Matos.
Libsen Rodriguez, the UNAIDS representative in Caracas, said, "This emphasis is a welcome inclusion of a gender perspective in addressing the problem of AIDS in Venezuela." The ads "have been produced with our support, and are aimed, for example, at helping women and young people not to feel guilty about taking measures to protect themselves from the risk of infection," added Rodriguez.
As the cost of providing free antiretroviral treatment to the 15,500 HIV/AIDS patients registered with the Health Ministry can average over $300 a month per person, "focusing on prevention and education is much better, and more cost-effective," said Matos.