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Brazil, a model in the battle against AIDS

posted 4 Jun 2011, 07:00 by Mpelembe   [ updated 4 Jun 2011, 07:02 ]

Thirty years after HIV was first discovered, Brazil sets a global example through prevention policies and a treatment program that involved breaking patents and distributing free drugs to patients.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL REUTERS - When the HIV epidemic first began spreading across the globe in the 1980's, Brazil was one of the worst hit countries. Now, 30 years on, it has slowed the epidemic and become a model in the AIDS fight.

From the beginning, Brazil defied the Roman Catholic church's anti-condom stance and launched an aggressive prevention program that openly targeted everyone from gays to party-goers at Carnival festivals and even middle aged women.

Large billboards and splashy television ads urge Brazilians to use condoms every year, especially during the Carnival season.

UNAIDS representative in Brazil, Jacqueline Cortes, said Brazil rose as an example for other developing nations by uniting forces in the battle against HIV.

"Brazil has been showing that developing countries, like ours, are capable of fighting the epidemic and giving a reasonable response to the epidemic with the participation of all groups involved in the battle against AIDS -- that is, the government, society, health experts and international organizations," she said.

At the heart of Brazil's success is an even more controversial free drugs program that has pitted the country against giant international pharmaceutical companies.

In 1994, the government urged Brazilian firms to start manufacturing AIDS drugs and now it makes many of the antiretroviral drugs used in the 'cocktails'. The prices on those drugs have plummeted more than 70 percent.

A typical treatment now costs about $4,500 dollars in Brazil, compared to about $20,000 in the United States.

Head of the gay rights group Arco-Iris, Julio Moreira, said his organization concentrates on spreading quality information about prevention.

"Today we fight especially to guarantee that we have better prevention campaigns and at the same time to offer support along with the public health system to care for HIV-positive patients," he said.

With drugs become more sophisticated and expensive, caring for HIV patients in developing countries alone already costs around $13 billion a year and that could treble over the next 20 years.

Brazil proved a model which has been working well, but health officials recognize there is still a long path ahead. And although the spread of AIDS has dropped off among gays and drug users, a new study shows housewives and teenage girls are the latest victims.