Written by Rodolfo Vega, Senior Consultant, JSI
“De Canada a la Patagonia” has been the clarion call for Latino IAS conference delegates to unite around HIV. This conference has provided the opportunity for Latinos in the USA, Canada, Central and South America and the Caribbean to share our experiences in addressing the challenges posed by HIV. That exchange is taking place throughout the poster sessions, the Global Village, the conference sessions, satellite activities and receptions.
One session: The Latin America – Latinos y VIH – Retos y Oportunidades para Transformar la Respuesta al SIDA (Challenges and Opportunities to Transform the AIDS Response) was held in Spanish and was the fulcrum of this topic. Dr. Massimo Ghidinelli from PAHO provided an overview of the epidemiology of the disease in Latin America. As in the USA, the population of men who have sex with men has the highest prevalence among all Latin American countries.
Other topics included financing and governance. Dr. Jose Angel Izazola, Director of the Mexican HIV and AIDS National Program, noted that the domestic contribution to the national HIV budget is larger than the international contribution. He also suggested new ways to think about spending: to move from projects to program packages, from individual initiatives to synergies, from cost to identification. He also mentioned that governments in the region need to examine not how much they are spending but ion what the monies are spent. Often governments fund the right population with the wrong strategy.
The good news is that most, if not all the countries in the region have a national HIV strategy and human rights legislations that address HIV. Lidice Lopez-Tocol, from Peru, called attention to the need to strengthen civic society in Latin America. She spoke about how governments must spend and invest money on opening space for dialog with civil society. But challenges, such as stigma and homophobia in all levels of society, remain.
In Central America the epidemic MSM make up the greatest number of people living with HIV; however, most funding goes to sex workers. Other challenges are the lack of service coordination and integration, and the lack of good epidemiological data. One of the most disquieting topics was the challenges faced by the Latino immigrants in the US. When immigrants arrive, not only do they leave behind family, friends, and other social ties, but their medical history as well. The tough immigration policies have created a climate of fear that hampers access to care. Moreover, the 25% of undocumented Latinos in the USA will have no access to the benefits offered by the Affordable Care Act.
From Canada to Patagonia, Latinos are facing the same challenges, and seeking effective solutions. Would you join us in uniting around HIV?