Saturday, August 27, 2005

AIDS in El Salvador

AIDS is not recent news, but its global threat must never be ignored. HIV/AIDS has progressed steadily in El Salvador over the past 20 years. As is true in many poor countries, ignorance, discrimination and an underfunded health care system create conditions where the disease can spread. The USAID Country Profile, December 2004 has statistics on the current reach of the disease in El Salvador:

Since AIDS was first identified in El Salvador 1984, the epidemic has grown steadily, especially in urban areas. More cases have been reported since January 1999 than in all previous years. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) currently estimates that by the end of 2003, 29,000 adults and children were living with HIV/AIDS, yielding an adult prevalence of 0.7 percent....

El Salvador is considered to have a concentrated epidemic, with prevalence consistently exceeding 5 percent in one or more vulnerable populations: commercial sex workers, in some cases, as high as 10 percent; tuberculosis patients, 3 percent; sexually transmitted infection patients, 5 percent; and surgical patients, 7 percent. A 1996-97 study of street children showed an infection rate of more than 20 percent, and new data suggest the HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men is as high as 17.8 percent....

Although the government began initial HIV/AIDS prevention activities as early as 1988, a great deal of stigma surrounding HIV persists in El Salvador. The epidemic remains largely hidden and too often is associated with inevitable death, homosexuality, and punishment for immoral behavior. El Salvador was the last country in the region to pass legislation protecting patient rights and guaranteeing access to treatment (law number 588, passed 2001). The law originally included a provision to allow compulsory testing of employees, but that provision was removed before passage.

El Salvador's National AIDS Program, established in 1989, works in close relationship with various ministries and civil society. The country has a multisectoral national AIDS coordination mechanism that is highly active. There is some donor support, as well as evidence of commitment from high-level authorities and the private sector. El Salvador was approved for funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in the second round.

An article from 2003 titled Living with AIDS in El Salvador describes the stigma surrounding the disease:

Discrimination continues to abound. In the hospitals, if someone dies of AIDS, the parents are forced to clean the body in order to be permitted to take it from the hospital.

Patients who arrive at the hospital with AIDS sometimes find a public sign on their beds announcing "Patient with AIDS." Most family members of those who have died of AIDS hide the diagnosis for fear that there will be repercussions.

Efforts to fight HIV/AIDS are being made in the country. The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS has a report on efforts by the government of El Salvador and UN programs here. FUNDASIDA is a local Salvadoran organization which operates a clinic and advocates for victims of the disease.

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