HIV/AIDS in Venezuela
Efforts to address HIV/AIDs in Venezuela are facing barriers as the country is grappling with limited access to medications, health care and products to maintain sexual health. Due to the Venezuelan economic and political crisis, medical workers are pouring out of the country. Additionally, the Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela has estimated that the country has had an 85% shortage of medicine as of 2018, making HIV/AIDs in Venezuela difficult to prevent and treat.

Venezuela’s Health Care System

Venezuela’s collapsing medical system has led to dire sexual education and limited condom access; many citizens have claimed that condoms are scarce at clinics, or egregiously expensive. In 2019, a pack of condoms was about $170 in Venezuela and people had to wait in long lines to purchase them.

The cost of condoms is a huge burden, as more than three-quarters of Venezuelans have been living in extreme poverty as of 2021. This has made Venezuela very vulnerable to sexually transmitted disease (STDs) transmission, including HIV, the deadliest STD there is. Therefore, HIV/AIDS in Venezuela has become an urgent humanitarian concern.

Understanding HIV/AIDS Treatment and Prevention

To prevent the spread of HIV, which is an STD that is highly preventable through condom use, individuals can get tested to limit the spread of the infection. In the case of treatment, antiviral drugs, or so-called “anti-HIV cocktails,” are highly successful in keeping HIV at bay so people do not subsequently contract AIDS.

AIDS is quite deadly and emerges at the point where the HIV virus has destroyed its host’s immune system. Although HIV is impossible to eliminate from the human body, a patient with the virus has about the same expected life expectancy as a patient without it. However, this is only true if the HIV-positive patient is receiving proper access to health care and HIV antiretroviral therapy. Otherwise, 90% of patients with the virus can expect to contract AIDS, which is fatal in eight to 10 years on average.

Venezuela’s HIV Crisis

Thus, HIV/AIDS in Venezuela has become a crisis precipitously with the country’s economic crisis. In a proper contagious disease protocol, citizens would have proper access to HIV testing. However, in a country with a medicine and health care shortage, this is hard to come by. Additionally, since many people with HIV experience discrimination, they often experience embarrassment at the possibility of testing. As of 2020, UNAIDS estimated that approximately 120,000 Venezuelans were HIV positive, which is about 0.3% of the country’s population.

HIV-Positive Refugees

HIV/AIDS in Venezuela is forcing citizens to leave to save their lives and obtain access to antiviral drugs elsewhere. The Venezuelan Network of Positive People has estimated that 10,000 Venezuelans had to leave due to poor HIV treatment options as a result of the economic crisis that has been ongoing since 2019. The only option HIV-positive Venezuelans have is to leave their homes to get the health care they need.

HIV and Venezuela’s Economic and Political Crisis

This situation is quite new for Venezuela. In fact, the country used to be a leading place for HIV treatment in the early 2000s. Since 1999, those with HIV/AIDS in Venezuela had access to free, government-funded treatment. Its public health system specifically targeted citizens that often experienced discrimination such as sex workers and other minority groups. However, under the political control of Hugo Chavez and his successors, such a program does not exist any longer. Unfortunately, political stability may be necessary before HIV-positive Venezuelans can receive treatment again.

Infected Venezuelan Refugees Find Hope in Colombia

About 1.7 million Venezuelans, or 37% of all Venezuelans, were living in Colombia as of 2021. Since Colombia has the highest Venezuelan refugee population, Colombian HIV/AIDS organizations are specifically targeting HIV-positive Venezuelans immigrating to the country.

The nonprofit Colombia AIDS Health care Foundation, founded in 2018 is one such example. Since its founding, it has provided HIV testing, condom delivery, outreach and treatment for HIV-positive persons. The organization provided antiretroviral drugs to 1,850 Colombians, mostly Venezuelan migrants, at a time as of 2021. The nonprofit works with the Colombian government, which provides free HIV treatment to documented migrants and undocumented migrants in emergency situations.

It is inspiring to see a country do so much to help its neighbors during an emergency. With other countries being not only willing to take in Venezuelan refugees but also to give them the medical care they need, there is hope for many Venezuelans.

– Mikaela Marinis
Photo: Unsplash

Zika Virus

The Zika virus has been in Asia and the Pacific for roughly six decades but its symptoms had caused little concern in the area. Yet after the recent outbreak in the Americas, certain countries in the region are now taking preventative measures.

Zika is an emerging mosquito-borne virus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947. The first outbreak in Asia, though, occurred in the 1960s.

“It has appeared in Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and Pakistan, but no widespread cases have been reported and symptoms have typically been mild and similar to dengue and chikungunya, which may have helped mask its presence,” according to the Associated Press.

Nonetheless, after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global emergency a few weeks ago, several countries in the region have started taking special precautions.

According to IRIN, “Tonga has declared an epidemic, and the government of the Cook Islands has advised women to delay becoming pregnant. Japan, South Korea, Nepal and India have issued advisories to pregnant women against traveling to infected countries.”

Nepal is attempting to get rid of standing water where the Zika-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito might breed, said Dr. Babu Ram Marasini, director of the Department of Health Services.

“South Korea has announced a fine of two million won (about $1,700) on doctors who fail to immediately report suspected cases, while Malaysia has asked travelers to the country to report to health centers if they have symptoms,” added IRIN.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that it is unclear how the Zika virus arrived in the Americas. However, it is theorized that it arrived with participants from the Pacific at sporting events in Rio de Janeiro two years ago.

Since then, the Zika virus has been spreading rapidly across the Americas, with 1.5 million cases reported in Brazil alone.

IRIN emphasized that “despite Zika’s relatively benign history in Asia and the Pacific, there is a risk that a stronger form of the virus may have emerged, and that it could spread throughout the region with much more severe consequences than previous outbreaks.”

Additionally, Dr. Shailendra Saexana from the Indian Virological Society said “The strain in Brazil could be new because mutation rates in these viruses are high. Moist tropical climates, population explosion and international travel mean Asia is susceptible to Zika.”

Various Asian countries are currently very vulnerable to an outbreak of Zika, especially due to the increase in migration from rural areas to cities, as well as the lack of sanitation and abundance of stagnant water where mosquitoes can breed. However, with these new preventative measures in place, the risks may be reduced.

Isabella Rolz

Sources: World Health Organization, IRIN, Associated Press
Photo: Flickr

Bill Gates Epidemics

Bill Gates believes that the Ebola epidemic—which has killed 10,000 people around the world—might be minuscule in comparison to the impact of a future disease. If the world does not put a focus on diseases and prevention, Gates argues, the next virus that breaks out could affect even more people. “Next time we might not be so lucky,” Gates said at TED on March 15, 2015.

Gates  supported his TED speech with an opinion piece written for The New York Times and a paper written for The New England Journal of Medicine. Also supporting his argument was an African hospital simulation set up at the venue of his TED talk. Those who participated in the recreated experiment had to experience the difficulties of being a healthcare worker treating Ebola patients, including distributing “medicine” to “patients” in protective suits that proved hard to move around in.

Gates thinks that the fight against viral diseases should be like fighting a war, citing a time as a child when he considered nuclear weapons to be the biggest threat to the earth.  Now, he says, we need to “fight not missiles but microbes.”

“This should absolutely be a priority,” Gates said. “We need to get going because time is not on our side.” Gates says that the world’s governments should consider spending more money on disease prevention as an epidemic is “by far the most likely” thing that could kill more than 10 million people. It has happened before, with the 1918 Spanish flu killing 33.3 million people in just the duration of one year.

Gates has some ideas on preventing this from happening again, including “strengthening poor countries’ health systems” and “investing in disease surveillance.”

“To begin with, most poor countries, where a natural epidemic is most likely to start, have no systematic disease surveillance in place,” Gates points out in his New York Times op-ed piece. With the Ebola epidemic, he argues, “trained personnel should have flooded the affected countries within days. Instead it took months.” If the world does not learn from mistakes of the past, we could be in for a dangerous future.

Melissa Binns

Sources: Fortune,  NYT,  Recode

Photo: Panteres

Nearing the conclusion of the First World War, both Western Europe and the United States were swept up once again in mass casualties. However, this time it was not mustard gas or trench warfare, but rather it was the spread of a highly virulent virus that quickly moved from epidemic to pandemic proportions. Known as the Spanish Influenza, this virus emerged from the prairies of the United States and quickly spread throughout the ravaged cities of war-torn Europe, causing catastrophic levels of death and human suffering. Much has changed in the subsequent century since the Spanish Influenza pandemic, most notably increased coordination between governments in regards to global health concerns and early warning systems of epidemics. And if current trends continue, the end of global pandemics may finally be a reality.

Primarily due to the growth of social media and greater governmental cooperation, local epidemics are being reported to World Health Organization officials at a much quicker rate, allowing for the deployment of huge networks of heath workers aimed at both containing and studying a disease prior to it mutating and becoming a pandemic. Innovative health care workers and research scientists are now utilizing the full potential of social media, and have managed to decrease the detection time of possible pandemics to 23 days, possibly ushering the end of global pandemics.

In regards to the end of global pandemics, TEDMED speaker Dr. Larry Brilliant recounted the eighty countries that came together to end smallpox which lasted for more than two centuries. “Today, we are finding diseases faster than anyone ever imagined,” he comments. “Innovations in early detection, early response and global cooperation can put an end to pandemics.”

A future free of disease-causing viruses capable of inflicting huge losses of life are primarily due to the impressive scientific advances in global health and social media that have occurred over the last decade. Moreover, as early detection times continue to decrease, will this generation be the first one to see the end of global pandemics? If health scientists such as Dr. Brilliant continue to forge ahead with their efforts, it’s more than likely a possibility. Dr. Brilliant comments that “We are closer every day.”

Brian Turner
Source: CNN
Photo: Healthcave