San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Fight against AIDS Targets Women, Youths

“THE AIDS epidemic is the most dramaticepidemic humanity has ever seen,”said Patricia Salgado, Costa Rica presidentof the Joint United Nations Programmeagainst HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), at a ceremonyin San José Wednesday commemoratingWorld Aids Day.Less than a week after the celebrationof International Day Against ViolenceToward Women, the World AIDSCampaign of 2004 is seeking to addressthe way women’s inequality helps fuel thetransmission of HIV, the virus that causesAIDS, and increases the impact of the disease.The campaign is entitled “Women,Girls, HIV and AIDS.”According to U.N. statistics, half of the40 million people who are HIV-positiveworldwide are women. They are 2-4 timesmore likely to contract the disease duringsexual intercourse than men, and the rateof infection has grown considerablyamong women ages 15-34, in their primereproductive years.IN Costa Rica, the figure has risenfrom 1 woman for every 7 men contractingthe disease to 1 for every 4.“The focus must now be on heterosexualrelationships, not homosexual relationships,”Salgado said.Public Health Minister Rocío Sáenzsays the ministry is trying to change thecourse of the epidemic.“The most important issue is identifyingthe people who are infected in time, sothat we can initiate protective measures,”she said.In its first-ever massive campaign toemphasize prevention, the Ministry ofPublic Health plans to distribute 600,000condoms among sex workers, men whohave sex with men, prison inmates andpeople at risk of sexual exploitation.“We need to change people’s attitudetoward sex; they must understand that acondom is necessary,” Sáenz said.Sáenz added that one of the mostimportant achievements in the fight againstHIV is the approval of the “Project toImprove Costa Rica’s Attention to Peoplewith AIDS,” which will receive $4.2 millionin aid from the Global Fund over aperiod of four years. Funds will be distributedto various government agencies andnon-governmental organizations with thegoal of educating Costa Ricans aboutHIV/AIDS prevention.The project began last year (TT, Nov.28, 2003) and preliminary results will bereleased next year.DURING a talk earlier in the week,President Abel Pacheco said, “Costa Ricacan be very proud of the success we havehad in controlling the disease.”Most recent official figures suggestthat since the first registered case of AIDSin 1983 until the end of 2003, 2,546 peoplehave contracted the disease and 1,664 ofthem have died, 11% women.The government spends $13 million ayear on the antiretroviral drugs used by the1,850 people now in treatment. An estimated12,000 or more people in Costa Ricaare believed to be infected with HIV.This week, the U.S. Embassy in SanJosé released a statement announcing anambitious plan by U.S. President GeorgeW. Bush to prevent HIV and AIDS througheducation programs in Costa Rica andCentral America, as well as other programsthroughout the world.IN commemoration of World AIDSDay, festivals were held throughoutCosta Rica to better inform the publicabout the disease and focus on preventingit.In the Cultural Plaza in downtownSan José, 200 Red Cross volunteers, anetwork of non-governmental organizationsand members of the gay and transvestitecommunities handed out leafletsand condoms.“We are trying to make clients awarethat they must use condoms to protecttheir own health as well as the prostitute’s,”said one transvestite, who goesby the name of “Shaks” and is a memberof the Costa Rican Movement AgainstHIV.In the park of Alajuelita, a town in thehills south of San José, the Ministry ofPublic Health and the Costa Rican SocialSecurity System (Caja) held a festival withthe motto: “Health, self-protection andPrevention” with a focus on teachingyoung men that they need to protect notonly themselves but the health of theirpartners, too.“PEOPLE must protect themselves,this disease kills and young people are thehope of the future. We need better educationfor these youngsters,” said the presidentof the Costa Rican Red Cross, MiguelCarmona.He added that next year they plan amore active and aggressive educationalcampaign, hoping to reach poorer andmore marginal communities.

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