Chicago Tribune Examines Cuba’s ‘Aggressive’ HIV/AIDS Campaign
The Chicago Tribune on Sunday examined Cuba's "aggressive campaign against AIDS," which has been critiqued as "excessive" by some health experts and praised as "effective" by others. Cuba's HIV prevalence is "by far the lowest" in the Caribbean region, which has the world's second highest HIV prevelance rate, second only to sub-Saharan Africa, the Tribune reports. According to Cuban officials, the country's HIV prevalence is about 0.05% (Marx, Chicago Tribune, 10/26). Under the National Commission to Face AIDS, which was founded in 1983, doctors contacted Cubans who had spent time in Africa and administered 135,000 HIV tests, instituted screening practices in blood banks, tested pregnant women and committed HIV-positive people to sanitariums (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/11). Under the campaign, people who test positive for HIV live in sanitariums for at least three months, where they receive free treatment, food and classes on HIV/AIDS, the Tribune reports. Of the 3,892 Cubans diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, about 800 live in 14 sanitariums, including one facility that houses HIV-positive convicted criminals, according to the Tribune. In addition, the government operates an "extensive" outreach program, involving television ads and volunteers who distribute education materials to encourage safe sex and limit HIV transmission. Although HIV prevalence is low in Cuba, the number of new HIV cases has increased in recent years, and the government has expressed concern about the virus' spread among bisexual men, according to the Tribune.
Critics of the Cuban program say that it is based on the "coercion that only a one-party state can wield," the Tribune reports. Berta Gomez, an AIDS expert with the Pan American Health Organization, said that Cuba's approach to fighting AIDS is not a model for other nations because it violates human rights by isolating carriers and "separat[ing] a person from their family." However, Peggy McEvoy, a former UNAIDS official in the Caribbean, said, "I have enormous praise for what [Cuba has] done," adding that the campaign is an "object lesson in what a socialist government can do when they want to do it" (Marx, Chicago Tribune, 10/26).