NPR Program Examines HIV/AIDS in Bolivia
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Tuesday examined how although Bolivia has one of the lowest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in South America, the "epidemic is growing rapidly." The country, which has a population of nine million, had an estimated 1,500 HIV cases in 2005. According to "Morning Edition," that number had doubled within one year, prompting the government to acknowledge that it could be facing a potential crisis. "We've made HIV a priority and passed the so-called AIDS law, where we define the government's responsibility toward HIV-positive patients, providing free care and drugs for anyone who needs it," Ronny Rossel, national coordinator for Bolivia's first governmental HIV/AIDS program, said. According to Rossel, there are about 8,000 HIV cases in the country currently. A law passed last year allows people to access no-cost generic drugs imported from Brazil and India, "Morning Edition" reports.
However, the country's "macho culture and its indigenous and cultural diversity make it difficult to reach many at-risk groups," according to "Morning Edition." An estimated 40 different ethnic groups live in Bolivia, and many of them have unique languages, social customs and family traditions. In addition, the government has "barely made any efforts to increase HIV awareness and to dispel the myth that" the virus only affects commercial sex workers and men who have sex with men, "Morning Edition" reports.
The only public HIV/AIDS clinic is located in Bolivia's largest city of Santa Cruz. Patients sometimes can miss their appointments and prescriptions while doctors and nurses at the clinic go on strike because of medical supply shortages, according to "Morning Edition." Gonzalo Borda, the clinic's director, said that 46% of all HIV-positive people in Bolivia receive treatment at the center. "If we can't control HIV in Santa Cruz, we won't be able to control it in Bolivia," he said. Most new HIV cases are diagnosed in Santa Cruz -- which has a large immigrant population from other cities, rural areas and countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay -- and most treatments also are provided in the city, "Morning Edition" reports (Guidi, "Morning Edition," NPR, 3/17).