BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Spanish Portuguese Caribbean
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Americas  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
LANGUAGES
EDITIONS
Saturday, 6 July, 2002, 09:22 GMT 10:22 UK
Venezuela struggles to cope with Aids
Argentine Aids prevention poster
Aids/HIV: A growing problem in Latin America

Carlos Ferrer's parents were told their son had Aids as he lay in a coma in a hospital bed on Venezuela's Caribbean island of Margarita on Christmas Eve 2000.

Days before Carlos had become ill with encephalitis and collapsed in his bathroom.

Luckily, a friend discovered him and rushed him to hospital.


The most important thing about this epidemic is that very few people are educated about it. If you don't educate people cases like mine will be repeated everyday

Carlos Ferrer

The doctor's initial assumption was that he was a drug addict, then that he was gay.

A simple blood test indicated he was HIV positive.

"It wasn't even the doctor or the specialist who told my parents my diagnosis. It was a psychiatrist who met with them and told them I had Aids and that our lives were going to change.

"He said they should burn all my clothes because I could infect my family and that after I used the bathroom they had to clean it with chlorine to disinfect it. He told them I was going to die."

Free medicine

Carlos was then transferred to the capital Caracas for further tests. He was told that he would need regular treatment with anti-retrovirals in order to combat the virus.

Launch new window : Aids in South America
Click to see South America's growing problem

Just months later, in April 2001, the Supreme Court ruled the $1,000 a month treatment was to be made available for free to all Venezuelans, the first ruling of its kind in Latin America.

Feliciano Reyna, of the HIV/Aids community centre Solidarity Action, says the court ruling transformed sufferer's lives in a country where 80% of the people live in poverty.

"It opened up so many doors and it definitely changed people's outlook in terms of their living with HIV and our work as NGOs.

"All we could give before was hope, but it wasn't really tangible, you know, keep on fighting, go on, there's a lot of research. Just being able to get their hands on these medicines that were life-saving was unbelievable."

Economic straitjacket

Since the court decision, the number of Venezuelans receiving free medication has jumped from around 2,000 to more than 11,000.


We know there are a lot of people who don't know they are infected who could be going to clinics

Government official
But the number of people affected by HIV/Aids in Venezuela is thought to be much higher.

The United Nations estimates it at around 65,000 and NGOs say it could be as high as 400,000.

The Venezuelan government, which has increased its HIV/Aids budget more than five-fold in the last three years, is facing an economic crisis and severe cash flow problem this year.

"We know there are a lot of people who don't know they are infected who could be going to clinics," Dr Miriam Morales, the population director of the health department told the BBC.

"We're trying to strengthen our investigations to allow us to know a lot more about the daily nature of the disease in our country. There is a crisis of financing in Venezuela at the moment, but we do have the budget for the drugs this year."

Ignorance

At the Aids unit of the Algodonal hospital in the west of Caracas, the beds are old and don't work properly. The conditions are unhygienic and many of the patients are painfully thin.


We don't have simple supplies such as moisturisers and surgical gloves

Doctor on Aids ward
Because of the stigma that surrounds Aids in Venezuela, the patients are kept separate in a ward at the end of the corridor.

Many here come from the slums like the ones on the hillsides that surround the hospital.

There, most people know nothing about the virus. By the time they come here they are so ill, it is simply to die.

Dr Yajaira Roldan is the only doctor here in charge of 12 patients. She says the unit lacks staff and resources.

Education essential

"We have so many needs, basic medications and supplies as well as personal needs. We don't have simple supplies such as moisturisers and surgical gloves.

"Perhaps the government knows the magnitude of the epidemic but they only use anti-retrovirals for treatment. There are other shortages that need to be taken care of."

Carlos Ferrer, who now works as a counsellor at Solidarity Action, says education is vital to reduce the spread of the disease.

"Obviously I'm how I am today thanks to the medication. It's very important that the government gives free medicine, but that's not everything.

"The most important thing about this epidemic is that very few people are educated about it. If you don't educate people cases like mine will be repeated everyday."


Key stories

Case studies

Background

CLICKABLE GUIDE

TALKING POINT

FORUM
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Americas stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes