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Latin American Health Officials Call on International Donors to Continue Support for HIV/AIDS Programs in Region

December 18, 2006

Health officials from Latin America on Thursday during a briefing hosted by UNAIDS urged international donors and organizations to continue supporting HIV/AIDS education, prevention and treatment programs in Latin America, despite recent data showing that the number of new HIV infections has leveled off in some countries in the region, the AP/Dow Jones reports. According to UNAIDS, more than half of the estimated 1.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS in Latin America live in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, which are the region's four largest countries. However, HIV prevalence is highest in smaller countries, including Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama. "We ask you not to delay this aid to our countries ... because HIV does not allow delays, does not allow budgets. People are suffering, people are dying," El Salvador's Vice Minister of Health Jose Ernesto Navarro Marin said, adding that providing HIV/AIDS services to those most in need has been "an extremely complex process" in Latin America. Poverty, migration, lack of education and "rampant homophobia" have fueled the spread of HIV throughout the region, and the most recent rise in new HIV infections has been in communities with large groups of injecting drug users and men who have sex with men, UNAIDS reports. "Unprotected sex between men remains a significant factor in HIV transmission and accounts for nearly half of the sexually transmitted HIV infections in Brazil," according to the 2006 UNAIDS report. Strengthening HIV education in universities and schools has helped to decrease the number of new HIV infections in Latin America, health officials said at the briefing. "Years ago it used to be a taboo talking about sex education. Now things have changed in the last seven or eight years, [and] young people understand better," Marin said (Herbaugh, AP/Dow Jones, 12/15).

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