Venezuelan Economic Crisis Affects Acclaimed HIV Treatment Program

Venezuelan Economic Crisis Affects Acclaimed HIV Treatment Program

Venezuela’s current economic crisis affects one of its most well-known public health achievements, its HIV treatment program. Beginning in 1999, Venezuela’s government offered free, public HIV treatment, including importing generic medicines and distributing condoms. That same socialist government’s focus on nationalism and implementation of currency and price controls has created chronic medicine and supply shortages. These shortages have damaged the acclaimed HIV treatment program and put lives at risk.

“Juan Coronel had HIV for years…but by the time he was sick enough to need anti-retrovirals, Venezuela’s HIV/AIDS program was chronically short of medications. He died on June 19.”  ALEJANDRO CEGARRA/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Without access to necessary medicines and screening tests, Venezuela now faces an AIDS epidemic not seen in decades. Venezuelans living with HIV are not regularly receiving medications and are subsequently developing drug-resistant strains. Hospitals do not have even basic supplies to treat patients and are reusing supplies and equipment, increasing risk for further HIV transmission.  Condoms are not available publicly, and are expensive to purchase from private pharmacies. There are no HIV tests publicly available. Those infected are unknowingly spreading the diseases through sexual transmission. Pregnant mothers unaware of their HIV status transmit the virus to their babies, who cannot receive adequate treatment.

When the treatment program does stock drugs, which is rare, they only stock two basic anti-retrovirals (ARVs).  Reagents used in regular blood testing to measure viral load and immunity have not been available in nearly a year and the national laboratory responsible for screenings closed six months ago.

Figures on the epidemic vary due to unreliable government reporting, but the last figures from UNAIDS said 130,000 Venezuelans had HIV/AIDS in 2012, with approximately 11,000 new diagnoses each year. These figures do not include the accelerated rates of death from AIDS and the accelerated rate of new infection.

AIDS activists in Venezuela asked the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for assistance in 2016. But because Venezuela is considered a high income country, home to the largest oil reserves in the world, the fund was not able to help. President Maduro denies the country faces any kind of humanitarian crisis.

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