Brazil’s new challenge against HIV

. Dec 01, 2019
Despite a recent rise in HIV infections, Brazil remains a reference in fighting AIDS with a free system of prevention and treatment. Photo: Alexxndr/Shutterstock

The first registered case of AIDS in Brazil came in 1982. Back then, the press called it the “gay plague,” “God’s curse on queers,” or the “5H disease“—a reference to what had been observed as the most-affected populations (homosexuals, hemophiliacs, Haitians, heroin addicts, and ‘hookers’). It was only in the 1990s, with the deaths of famous singers Cazuza and Renato Russo from AIDS-related illnesses, that Brazil would pay more attention to the disease.

Since then, Brazil has become a worldwide reference in dealing with AIDS. In 1996, it became one of the first countries in the world to offer free treatment for HIV-positive patients in its healthcare system and is still the only country with a comparable population size to do so. Since adopting this model, the lifespan of patients more than doubled—from around 58 months (or roughly five years) in 1996 to over 12 years today, according to a study by the Health Ministry earlier this year.

</p> <p>However, Brazil now faces a new challenge: how to make older and younger males conscious of the risks of the disease. Infections among men between 15 and 29 years old or over 60 have gone up since 2008—despite infection rates falling among all other age groups.</p> <p>Brazil&#8217;s Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta believes young men—who didn&#8217;t witness the panic generated by the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and early 1990s—do not realize the risks of unprotected sexual relations with multiple partners. &#8220;Older generations saw many of their idols dying—and fear is one of the things that push human beings towards action. But youngsters do not understand that AIDS can kill,&#8221; he says. Regarding a surge in infections among older men, Mr. Mandetta puts the rise down to the popularization of drugs to combat erectile dysfunction.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/1019016"></div><script src=""></script> <h2>Brazil, a worldwide reference</h2> <p>Brazil registered almost 18,000 new cases of AIDS in 2019—a 23-percent drop from last year. Socorro Gross, a representative of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in Brazil, paid many compliments to the country&#8217;s healthcare framework for HIV-positive patients.</p> <p>Ms. Gross said on Friday that Brazil is close to reaching the &#8220;90-90-90&#8221; goal, that is: diagnosing at least 90 percent of all people infected, treating at least 90 percent of detected infections, and reaching viral suppression in at least 90 percent of patients. &#8220;Brazil is a place where public institutions, private players, and social organizations work together,&#8221; she told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.</p> <h2>AIDS in Brazil, in numbers</h2> <p>The Southeast—where almost half of the country&#8217;s population is located—leads the way in the number of reports of the disease and AIDS-related deaths. São Paulo registered 2,800 new cases, followed by Rio de Janeiro (1,600), Minas Gerais (1,500), and Espírito Santo (319).&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/1019258"></div><script src=""></script> <p>Roughly 4,400 patients in those states died over the past year.</p> <p>The number of cases involving children aged 5 and under has significantly dropped this year, with 27 percent fewer cases than reported in 2019. That reduction is due to the fact that São Paulo—by far Brazil&#8217;s most populous state—has nearly eradicated vertical transmission, that is, the passing of HIV from mother to baby during pregnancy, birth, or breast-feeding. São Paulo is the largest city in the world to have achieved this milestone.</p> <p>Still, there is a worrisome piece of data released by Brazilian authorities: an estimated 135,000 of the country’s 900,000 HIV-positive people are still unaware of their condition.

Brenno Grillo

The Brazilian Report's correspondent in Brasília, Brenno has worked as a journalist since 2012, specializing in coverage related to law and the justice system. He has worked for O Estado de S. Paulo, Portal Brasil, ConJur, and has experience in political campaigns.

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