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From: Max Blanchet <maxblanchet@worldnet.att.net>


An estimated 210,000 adults and children became infected during 2000. By
year's end some 1.8 million adults and children were estimated to be living
with HIV or AIDS, compared with 1.7 million at the end of 1999.

Rates are generally highest in Central America and the Caribbean, where HIV
is spreading mainly through sex between men and women.

Brazil too is experiencing a major heterosexual epidemic, but there are also
very high rates of infection among injecting drug users and men who have sex
with men. In Mexico, Argentina and Colombia, HIV infection is also confined
largely to these sub-populations. The Andean countries are currently among
those least affected by HIV infection, although risky behaviour has been
recorded in many groups.

The countries with the highest HIV rates in the region tend to be found on
the Caribbean side of the continent. According to the most recent figures,
over 7% of pregnant women in urban Guyana tested positive for HIV.

In Honduras, Guatemala and Belize there is also a fast-growing heterosexual
epidemic, with HIV prevalence rates among adults in the general population
of between 1 and 2%. In 1994, less than 1% of pregnant women using antenatal
services in Belize District tested positive for HIV, while one year later
the prevalence had risen to 2.5%.

In the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, the rate of HIV infection among
pregnant women has fluctuated between 2% and 5% for several years. Much of
the problem is concentrated in teenagers, suggesting that the worst is still
to come.

Heterosexual transmission of HIV is rarer in other countries of Central
America. In Costa Rica, for example, HIV is transmitted mainly during
unprotected sex between men. In Mexico, too, HIV has affected mainly men who
have sex with men, more than 14% of whom are currently infected. According
to one study, fewer than 1 in every 1000 women of childbearing age is

Brazil, where over half a million adults are living with HIV, has strong
prevention programmes. While in 1986 less than 5% of young men reported
using a condom the first time they had sex, the figure in 1999 was close to
50%, a tenfold increase. Among men with higher educational levels, over 70%
surveyed in 1999 said they used a condom for their first act of intercourse.

A low prevalence of HIV infection among heterosexuals is the norm in the
Andean region, at least in countries where data are available. In Colombia,
nowhere is the rate of HIV infection greater than 1 in 250 among pregnant
women. Even among sex workers, the figure is below 2%.

Argentina has typically high rates of HIV infection among injecting drug
users and men who have sex with men, but a relatively low average prevalence
of 0.4% among pregnant women.

Haiti is the worst-affected nation in the Caribbean. In some areas, 13% of
anonymously tested pregnant women were found to be HIV-positive. Overall,
around 8% of adults in urban areas and 4% in rural areas are infected. It is
estimated that 74,000 Haitian children had lost their mothers to AIDS by the
end of 1999.

In the Bahamas the adult prevalence rate is 4%. In the Dominican Republic 1
adult in 40 is HIV-infected, while in Trinidad and Tobago the rate is 1
adult in 100.

At the other end of the spectrum lie Saint Lucia, the Cayman Islands and the
British Virgin Islands, where fewer than 1 pregnant woman in 500 tested
positive for HIV in recent surveillance studies.

Heterosexual HIV transmission in the Caribbean is driven by the deadly
combination of early sexual activity and frequent partner exchange by young
people. In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, a quarter of men and women in a
recent national survey said they had started having sex before the age of
14, and half of both men and women were sexually active at the age of 16.

In Trinidad and Tobago, in a large survey of men and women in their teens
and early twenties, fewer than a fifth of the sexually active respondents
said they always used condoms, and two-thirds did not use condoms at all.

Age mixing - younger women having sex with older men - also drives the
Caribbean epidemic. HIV rates are five times higher in girls than boys aged
15-19 in Trinidad and Tobago. At one surveillance centre for pregnant women
in Jamaica, girls in their late teens had almost twice the prevalence rate
of older women.

In Brazil, as in several other countries on the continent, access to
government-subsidized antiretroviral treatment is guaranteed by a
presidential law. As a result, these countries have seen a reduction in
illness and death over the past years. In Brazil, by early 2000, 85,000
people living with HIV/AIDS were receiving treatment provided by the
Ministry of Health.

December 2000