An Ounce of Prevention, Aimed at Women and Youth in Venezuela

The Venezuelan government has launched an AIDS prevention campaign that specifically targets women and youth, sectors in which the incidence of the disease is growing worldwide.

By Humberto Márquez - IPS
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CARACAS, Aug 12 (IPS) - The Venezuelan government has launched an AIDS prevention campaign that specifically targets women and youth, sectors in which the incidence of the disease is growing worldwide.

Venezuela ”is one of the few countries that guarantees universal access to treatment for all people with HIV/AIDS, and now we are dealing with the shortfall that has existed until now with regard to prevention,” said Health Minister Francisco Armada.

The campaign is aimed especially at raising awareness among women, young adults and teenagers, using television and radio spots, newspaper ads, and billboards along the country's highways, to be placed between now and December, he added.

Most of the 900,000 dollar budget for the new AIDS prevention initiative will go towards the six public service announcements to be broadcast on television, reported former minister of information Andrés Izarra.

One of the spots shows how even people in a monogamous relationship can be infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, if their partners have sexual intercourse with just one other person without using a condom.

”AIDS can reach you,” the spot warns, but adds, ”you have the control, you decide,” and closes with the image of a head covered with a plastic hat.

The campaign also includes the free distribution of one million male and female condoms in health care facilities geared to women and youth, to specifically complement the awareness-raising effort aimed at these segments of the population, although the Health Ministry will also distribute up to 20 million condoms through the entire national network of public health care facilities in general.

Deisy Matos, director of the Venezuelan Health Ministry's HIV/AIDS Programme, told IPS that ”focusing on women in this campaign was not a random choice, but was based on concrete statistics.”

In the early 1990s, women accounted for one out of every 18 people in Venezuela infected with HIV, but today they account for one out of four, she noted, adding that half of the women with HIV/AIDS are homemakers, many of whom were infected by their spouses.

In this South American country of 25 million, there were 56,465 people living with HIV as of July, according to the latest figures available from the Health Ministry, noted Armada.

The informational ads to go out over the next few months and the distribution of free male and female condoms are aimed above all at consciousness-raising, ”because one of our goals is for HIV/AIDS testing to become a routine practice for everyone, and particularly women,” said Matos.

”This emphasis is a welcome inclusion of a gender perspective in addressing the problem of AIDS in Venezuela,” said Libsen Rodríguez, the representative in Caracas of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS).

The publicity spots ”have been produced with our support, and are aimed, for example, at helping women and young people not to feel guilty about taking measures to protect themselves from the risk of infection,” Rodriguez told IPS.

Rodríguez noted that the focuses of the new Venezuelan campaign also reflect a global reality, given that 45 percent of the more than 40 million people infected with HIV/AIDS around the world today are women, according to UNAIDS statistics.

The AIDS epidemic has claimed 22 million lives in the last two and a half decades, and left over 800,000 children orphans in 2001 alone.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, a million young people under 24 years of age are living with HIV/AIDS, representing almost 60 percent of the total number of cases.

William Barco of the non-governmental organisation Citizens Action Against AIDS welcomed the new government initiative ”because it addresses a demand that civil society groups involved with HIV/AIDS have been making since the mid-1990s, in terms of the need to emphasise campaigns aimed at information and prevention.”

”We could, however, criticise the fact that they have taken so long to launch these initiatives which are obviously of great benefit and help improve health standards, by maintaining a healthier population,” Barco told IPS.

Matos noted that providing free antiretroviral drugs to the 15,500 patients registered for treatment with the Health Ministry costs an average of over 300 dollars a month per person.

”Focusing on prevention and education is much better, and more cost-effective,” she said. ”In a general sense, this campaign is aimed at stemming the spread of the disease and minimising its impact on the Venezuelan population,” she added.

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