Latin America Statistics:
- AIDS Cases: 1.6 million
- Aids Orphans: 578, 000
In 2002, there were 578,000 AIDS orphans in Latin America, which does not include the countries of the Caribbean Experts expect this number to reach nearly 900,000 by 2010 if the AIDS crisis cannot be quelled (Aids orphans 'to double' 2002). Most AIDS orphans do not end up in orphanages, but instead they live with other family members or are forced to become homeless street children, who often resort to illegal activities like stealing groceries or cars in desperation. Because of the discrimination against AIDS patients, many children are not told if they or their late parent has AIDS, and therefore they do not receive proper treatment nor do they take proper precautions to prevent from spreading AIDS. Treatment is available for free or low costs in many countries, yet it is possible that children are afraid to receive treatment because they do not wish for others to know of their disease.
It is important to examine the spread of AIDS among adults within Latin America because the more people are infected with AIDS, the more lives it claims; thus, more children lose their parents to the disease and become AIDS orphans. There are currently 1.6 million people living with HIV or AIDS in Latin America, and while the epidemic has been stabilizing over the past years, this significant problem is often overshadowed by likewise significant AIDS reports from Africa. The most cases of HIV are in Argentina, Columbia, and Brazil, but it is the most prevalent in Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. Brazil has the most cases of HIV, and accounts for one third of HIV infections in Latin America. Some unique causes to Latin America's AIDS epidemic include societal misinformation and prejudice about AIDS, and the Pope's condemnation of condom use. AIDS education is helping to reduce the risk of infection.
Unprotected homosexual sex accounts for half of all sexually transmitted infections, yet many treatment programs ignore this major source of AIDS because of homophobia or cultural machismo. AIDS is also highly evident among prostitutes and drug users. The disease has also crossed-over to the general population. AIDS among women has increased largely due to the high-risk behavior of their male partners. These same causes account for the spread of HIV in many other Latin American countries as well.
After becoming infected with AIDS, some people are afraid to report their disease in fear of discrimination in the workplace or even within their own family. Most of all, they do not want to risk losing their job in an already poor country. A professional soccer player in Peru was expelled from his team for having HIV. In Mexico, some HIV patients are physically separated from other patients in hospitals. Without massive public protest, a teacher in Costa Rica would have been transferred just for being HIV-positive. Studies prove that children growing up with AIDS in countries like Brazil face higher levels of prejudice and discrimination.
While the use of condoms is increasing, some religious organizations argue against their use. Latin America is a traditionally religious, Catholic region. When the Pope formerly banned the use of condoms, some stopped using them, leaving them at an increased possibility for infection. The Catholic Church discourages any Catholic organization from helping to distribute condoms, and incorrectly argues that they are ineffective (although condoms do not guarantee protection from AIDS, the use does drastically decrease the risk of infection). Some priests in Latin America disagree with the Church's decision, and do encourage the use of condoms. It is likely that the church may change its opinion on condom use, as the Vatican's highest health official announced in 2005 that condoms may be permissible in families where one partner has AIDS (Kristof 2005).
Lack of AIDS education is a major problem, but is a recognized key to fighting AIDS. In countries like Brazil, people are having sex younger and more frequently, resulting in more HIV cases. Yet only half of Brazilians 15-24 know how HIV is transmitted (UNAIDS & WHO). Misconceptions about the disease results in improper prejudice against AIDS patients in society and in hospitals. AIDS education is crucial to preventing the spread of AIDS, successfully treating AIDS patients, and changing negative attitudes towards AIDS patients.
Many consider Brazil to be the Latin American model for successful AIDS and HIV treatment. The government has funded treatment for AIDS patients since the 1980's, which, along with help from an increasing number of non-governmental organizations, has successfully alleviated some of the AIDS crisis in Brazil. According to Avert, the "number of people dying from AIDS-related illnesses has also fallen by 50% and HIV-related hospitalisations have decreased by 70-80% since the late 1990s." Part of the key to Brazil's success in combating AIDS is the widespread distribution of generic HIV/AIDS treatment drugs, the introduction of blood screening tests at blood banks, encouraged HIV tests, augmented condom use, and increased AIDS education.
By learning from the actions of countries like Brazil, the number of people infected with HIV/AIDS in Latin America can continue to decrease. This will also decrease the number of children who must live as AIDS orphans, who are forced to live on the streets or to steal to make a living.
Orphaids UK, Ecuador
Missionaries John and Brenda Hart founded Orphaids outside Santo Domingo, Ecuador in the 1990s in order to provide for the "emotional, spiritual, medical and educational needs" of AIDS orphans (Orphaids). The Orphaids program cares for high-risk AIDS orphans in Ecuador, and also provides the local community with opportunities to treat and prevent AIDS. In addition to housing orphans, Orphaids offers medical care to people affected by AIDS. Parents in their last stages of life can stay with Orphaids where they can be with their children and receive treatment. Orphaids also distributes medicine to pregnant women to prevent the likelihood of AIDS being passed through birth.
The Orphaids compound has nine buildings and is capable of housing fifty four orphans. It currently houses fifteen children. Orphaids does not claim to be an orphanage, but instead a place where children can have a home and a family. House parents watch over the orphans, provide for their needs, and become a part of their family. All children have access to private school education, which is more stable than public schools.
Orphaids also organized ACOMVIDA, a program aimed at assisting the friends and family of a person with AIDS in the community. ACOMVIDA encompasses AIDS education, support, and treatment. In another program run by Orphaids, Jovenes Contra SIDA (Youth Against AIDS), educators go to high schools in the neighboring city to give AIDS education lessons. Jovenes Contra SIDA also trains students so that they can inform other about the realities of HIV and AIDS, and organizes campaigns and activities regarding AIDS. The efforts of Orphaids span the whole scope of the community, and Orphaids even supports similar efforts in Malawi, Africa.
Based on the plot of the true story: Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope by Laura Bush
Ana lost her mother and younger sister to AIDS when she was only three years old. Her mother contracted the disease as a child after being raped by her stepfather, and Ana was infected with AIDS at childbirth. She had to take pills every day to treat the infection, but hid this from her peers, whom she was afraid would shun her because of her disease. In her community, some children were expelled from school for being infected with AIDS. Ana secretly visited a children's hospital each month to refill her prescription and sometimes receive education how to live with AIDS.
Ana grew up with a number of difficulties. After her mother died, she went to live with her grandmother, whose boyfriend molested her and her sister, Isabel. While her father would initially visit Ana and Isabel once a week at their grandmother's house, he died of AIDS while Ana was in 6th grade.
After experiencing so much emotional trauma, Ana began to get into arguments with her grandmother, who would beat her. Later that year, Ana reported her beatings and molestation to a priest while taking communion classes. The police intervened, abruptly taking Ana to live with her Aunt Sonia, where she shared a room with two adults and four children.
Ana did not get along with her aunt either, who would violently beat her at home and in public. After telling one of her teachers what was happening, he helped to arrange for one of Ana's friend's family to adopt her while she later ran away to live with the family. When Ana went to court to finalize the adoption before the judge, he sent her to a juvenile detention center for trying to get adopted without consent from her own family.
At the center, Ana shared a locked room with twenty other girls. Ana did manual work at the center, and was allowed to attend school during the school year. She slowly developed a relationship with a psychologist to help her address her rough past, and befriended some of the other girls at the center.
When she was fifteen, she met a boy named Berto, whom she later found out also had AIDS. They developed a secret friendship at the detention center. Eventually, they both transferred to a group home which specialized in treating HIV and AIDS patients. They fell in love, and Ana became pregnant at sixteen years old.
Her baby, named Beatriz, was born without AIDS when Ana was seventeen. Ana and Beatriz went to live with Ana's Aunt Aida, while Berto spent his time in and out of the hospital because of a severe hip infection. While living with her aunt, Ana met a boy named Guillermo. She realized that she could no longer be with Berto, because he was sick and could not support her baby. Instead, she chose to be with Guillermo, who worked and bought diapers and food for Beatriz. Now Ana attends school, hoping to become the first in her family to go to college.
Berto, 17 (Latin America)
Based on the plot of the true story: Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope by Laura Bush
Berto never met his father or mother, and instead grew up with an abusive aunt. His aunt would mock and belittle Berto because he had AIDS, so Berto ran away when he was twelve years old. He dropped out of school to live with other street children his age, and stole cars and from grocery stores to make a living. When he was fifteen, the police put Berto in a juvenile detention center for these illegal activities, where he met Ana.
Berto was soon transferred to a special AIDS/HIV group home with Ana. There he and Ana helped around the home. Once his girlfriend Ana became pregnant, he started to wash cars to earn money for his new family. His hip became infected, and he could no longer walk. After his and Ana's child Beatriz was born, he spent his days in and out of the hospital. Although he and Ana broke up, he sometimes sees his child. Berto has gone back to school to receive an education.