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Panama: Housing for People Living With HIV/AIDS

Part of the "More Than Just a Roof Over My Head" Booklet

July 2010

The HIV/AIDS Epidemic

Estimates of the number of PLWHA in Panama range from 16,000 to 26,000. HIV prevalence is estimated at 0.9%. For every three men infected, one woman is infected with HIV. The epidemic is concentrated in urban areas and among sex workers and MSM.

The Housing Crisis

While Panama is categorized as an upper middle-income country, it is one of the countries in the region with the highest income inequality. Of the total population, 37% live in poverty; that percentage is comprised of 65% of the rural population and 15% of the urban population. In 2005, Panama's housing deficit was listed at 192,840 units.

Various Panamanian advocates have noted that access to housing is an obstacle for PLWHA in Panama. In order to obtain financing, banks and credit agencies ask for medical records and disqualify PLWHA because HIV is still considered to be a terminal disease. PLWHA and other persons with terminal diseases in Panama qualify for a Social Security pension; however, once one enrolls in this program, that person's status is public for all governmental authorities and available for banks and agencies seeking personal information.

Many HIV-positive Panamanians have trouble accessing formal employment because of their health status as well as stigma and discrimination. Their lack of income, combined with family rejection and abandonment, leads many PLWHA to live in shelters specifically for HIV-positive people. Unfortunately, the demand for shelters far exceeds supply.

Institutional Response & Solutions

The Ministry of Health in collaboration with the Clinton Foundation secured its first shipment of generic antiretrovirals in 2009, which saved the state an estimated $1.8 million USD. Improving universal access to treatment prioritizes women and children.

Panama's Ministry of Housing has prioritized various housing programs that fall under the first Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, including housing for indigenous populations and subsidized housing savings programs for families without access to traditional financing mechanisms, as well as the Housing Assistance Program (FASHABI), which provides emergency housing in the case of disasters, family emergencies, and extreme poverty. However, none of these programs target PLWHA.

"We face our disease living with our families who provide some support. You have little hope of obtaining our own house unless you win the lottery and you pay for it in cash!"

Advocate testimony provided by Jorge Luis Rodríguez of the Fundación PROBIDSIDA.


General Comptroller's Office, Milennium Development Goals in the Government's National Plan, 2005.

Ministry of Housing of the Republic of Panama, National Housing Programs, 2010.

UNGASS Country Progress Report: Panama, 2010.

World Bank Indicators Database, Panama, 2009.

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This article was provided by National AIDS Housing Coalition. Visit NAHC's website to find out more about their activities and publications.
See Also
More on HIV in Central America

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