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International News

Cuba Leads Way on AIDS Treatment and Prevention

February 21, 2003

Cuba has much to teach the world about tackling AIDS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science heard recently in Denver. A wide-ranging prevention and treatment program, backed by strong political action, has given Cuba the lowest AIDS prevalence and HIV infection in the western hemisphere -- and one of the lowest rates in the world. Since 1985, when Cuba's first AIDS case was diagnosed, 4,500 people have been infected and 1,050 have died of AIDS, according to Dr. Jorge Perez, the country's leading infectious disease specialist.

Today just .03 percent of the 11 million population is HIV-positive. The U.S. infection rate is 14 times higher, said Byron Barksdale, director of the Cuba AIDS Project, an American medical charity licensed by the U.S. government to circumvent the economic embargo of Cuba for humanitarian reasons.

Cuba took drastic action even before AIDS had reached the country. On the advice of Perez, the government set up a National AIDS Commission in 1983 and destroyed all foreign-derived blood products. That "educated hunch" enabled Cuba to escape the transmission of HIV to hemophiliacs and other blood recipients. As soon as AIDS appeared on the island, an aggressive HIV screening program swung into action, with compulsory testing for all expectant mothers, people with STDs and sexual contacts of HIV patients. There was also extensive voluntary testing. More than 20 million Cubans have tested for HIV since 1986, Barksdale said. At the same time, condoms were introduced to prevent sexual transmission.

The most controversial program was compulsory quarantining of everyone who tested positive in special HIV sanatoria. This was relaxed in 1994, but anyone newly diagnosed still has to go to a sanatorium for "eight weeks of education," Barksdale said. Treatment of AIDS patients has improved greatly over the past two years, because Cuba's pharmaceutical industry has started producing generic copies of the main HIV medicines. The next challenge will be to maintain and improve Cuba's HIV/AIDS program in the face of an enormous increase of tourism.

Back to other CDC news for February 21, 2003

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Adapted from:
Financial Times (London)
02.17.03; Clive Cookson



  
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
 

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