WHO Director General Encourages More HIV Testing, Increased Access to Antiretroviral Drugs in Latin AmericaWorld Health Organization Director-General Jong-Wook Lee on Wednesday while in Peru said that Latin American countries should do more in response to the region's HIV/AIDS epidemic, Reuters reports. Lee said that very few HIV-positive people in the region have access to antiretroviral drugs, according to Reuters. Lee's statements "echoed" a recent World Bank report on HIV/AIDS in Latin America, Reuters reports (Reuters, 3/10). The report, titled "HIV/AIDS in Latin American Countries: The Challenges Ahead," found that although Latin America has not experienced a widespread HIV/AIDS epidemic, the disease is spreading from high-risk groups into the region's general population. The report included the results of a 2001 survey of health workers, government officials and international nongovernmental organizations in 17 countries. According to official statistics, 1.4 million HIV-positive people live in Latin America. However, the region likely has 40% more HIV cases and 30% more AIDS cases than official statistics indicate because underreporting of HIV/AIDS is common (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/19/03). "Latin America must do more because HIV/AIDS is a growing problem worldwide," Lee said, adding, "Antiretroviral drugs can keep people alive and keep people productive. ... In Latin America the number of people with access to those drugs is negligible -- almost none."
Although 10 Latin American health ministers in June 2003 signed a deal with pharmaceutical companies to fix maximum prices for antiretroviral drugs, Lee said that the drugs are not getting to the people who need them because countries do not test enough individuals for HIV, according to Reuters. Lee said that pregnant women in particular should be tested for HIV because the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission can be greatly reduced if the woman and her infant are given antiretroviral drugs. Lee also said that other Latin American countries should follow Brazil's example of providing free HIV testing. Lee was in Peru to promote WHO's 3 by 5 Initiative, which aims to treat three million HIV-positive people worldwide by 2005 (Reuters, 3/10). The plan also calls for training 100,000 health care workers, refocusing 10,000 clinics in developing countries to treat HIV/AIDS and using common antiretroviral drug combinations to treat people. However, the plan does not provide the drugs or subsidize their cost (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/4).