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World AIDS Day Seeks to Get Rid of Stigma and Discrimination

Washington, DC, November 20, 2003 (PAHO)—Next Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day. This year marks the second stage of the campaign to abolish the stigma and discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS, considered the main obstacles to effective care and awareness.

As part of that day, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) will release a report on Understanding and Responding to HIV/AIDS Related Stigma and Discrimination in the Health Sector, which highlights a problem that still exists within the health services of the Americas.

Currently, some 42 million persons live with HIV/AIDS around the world. In the Americas, the total is 2.8 million persons, including 235,000 who became infected with the virus last year. Of this number, 1.4 million are in Latin America, 420,000 in the Caribbean and 940,000 in North America.

The biggest growth (16 percent in relative terms) took place in the Caribbean, following by 10 percent in Latin America and 5 percent in North America.

The Caribbean is the second region in the world with the highest rates of incidence, after Sub-Saharan Africa. The highest levels of incidence are in The Bahamas and Haiti.

In the Caribbean, most of the transmission of the virus comes through heterosexual contacts. However, in the Andean region – as well as in Canada, Mexico and the United States – sex between men accounts for 50 percent of transmissions.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic is considered a worldwide public health emergency. According to reports by international organizations, by the year 2050 the population of South Africa – now around 44 million – will decrease to 40.2 million because of HIV/AIDS fatalities.

The direct result of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is a reduction in the birth rate and of the hope for life. It has been estimated that as many as 91 million infants were not born in Africa because of the AIDS deaths of productive-age adults.

The global campaign that ends this year highlights stigma and discrimination. Using the slogan “live and let live,” the campaign seeks to encourage people to break the silence and tear down obstacles against the effective prevention and care of HIV/AIDS. The campaign also seeks to abolish discrimination and myths that still plague the HIV/AIDS problem.

“HIV/AIDS has become the biggest threat to human survival in the last 700 years. Important gains made in child health and life expectancy in the Americas are being threatened by this epidemic, which is destroying many of the efforts and investments of past decades,” says PAHO director Dr. Mirta Roses Periago in the report’s preface.

It is precisely this discrimination that has damaged the advances that have been made in the fight against this epidemic. When it comes to access to anti-retrovirals—the newest drugs to treat HIV/AIDS -- the nations of the Americas have been able to reduce their costs by as much as 90 percent.

To increase access to these medicines, the World Health Organization (WHO) has organized the “3x5” campaign whose goal is to make it possible for 3 millions persons infected by HIV/AIDS to receive the latest treatments by 2005.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) was established in 1902 and is the world’s oldest public health organization. PAHO works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of its people. PAHO serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).

PAHO Member States today include all 35 countries in the Americas. France, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are Participating States. Portugal and Spain are Observer States. Puerto Rico is an Associate Member.

For more information, video material, or photographs please contact: Daniel Epstein, Area of Public Information, (202) 974-3459, e-mail: epsteind@paho.org.


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