The Re-Emergence of HIV/AIDS in Venezuela

Picture1Despite great strides in treating HIV/AIDS globally over the past two decades, Venezuela demonstrates that vigilance against the disease must be maintained. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Venezuela was held up as the model state in slowing or stopping the transmission of the HIV virus and caring for those that were HIV/AIDS positive. It challenged the patent monopolies of the big drug companies and provided free, public anti-retroviral treatment to those that needed it. Free HIV screening was provided to all, and the government offered free condoms to vulnerable individuals such as gay men, sex workers, and drug users to help reduce the risk of infection. In its fight against HIV/AIDS, Venezuela was a model for countries in the developing world, with its success illustrated by declining rates of infection and death due to AIDS.

Unfortunately, as Venezuela spiraled into economic and political crisis over the past few years, its public health care system has deteriorated, and its HIV/AIDS program has all but disappeared as well. Anti-retrovirual drugs became increasingly difficult to find, and only reliably available to the few that could pay for them. Going without drugs increases the risk of developing drug-resistant forms of HIV, and increases the risk of death and suffering. Even condoms have become an expensive purchase that are often only available on the black market, increasing the risk of spreading the disease between sexual partners or from mother to child. Mental and physical health of those with HIV/AIDS has also suffered, given the stress of not being able to find drugs or because of the disabilities imposed by AIDS as it develops.

Given the state of the health care system, infections and deaths from HIV/AIDS have likely increased dramatically over the past few years. But, reliable data from UNAIDS is out-of-date (2012) (in part because the Venezuelan government has no reliable statistics), and therefore likely undercounts the number of new infections, individuals living with HIV/AIDS and deaths due to HIV/AIDS.  Given the economic and political crisis, it is unlikely that there will improvements over the short term, unless other countries step in to fill the void left by the Venezuelan government.

Further Reading:

Stephanie Nolan. In Venezuela, a once-leading AIDS program lies in ruins. The Globe and Mail, 22 June 2017, p. A 1. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/in-venezuela-a-once-leading-aids-program-lies-inruins/article35417359/

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