El Salvador Needs To Take Increased HIV/AIDS Control Efforts

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Although health officials in El Salvador have launched an HIV testingcampaign in the country, some advocates say that the country needs totake increased efforts to control the growing number of HIV cases inthe country, Inter Press Service reports.In addition, many people living with the virus say that they experiencestigma and discrimination and that there is a lack of drug access inthe country. According to some advocates, El Salvador's HIV testingcampaign, which was launched in June, has been used primarily as apublicity method aimed at improving the country's international imageand drawing positive media attention. The campaign -- called "Take thetest: positive or negative, we are all human beings in the face ofAIDS" -- during last month's national HIV testing day encouraged atleast 40,000 people to receive tests in the country's public hospitalsand health centers, as well as in parks and shopping centers, ElSalvador's Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance said.

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Jeannette Alvarado, a local health representative for Social Watch, said that the public health ministry has used the campaign to "show that they are living up to the U.N. Millennium Development Goals,that living conditions are improving" in El Salvador and "that thehealth policies are working." According to Alvarado, mismanagement ofHIV/AIDS funds has caused problems in terms of HIV/AIDS case monitoringand access to international funding for antiretroviral drugs. "Theseindicators (presented by the government) are aimed at creating an imagethat is not real, which means the necessary precautions are not beingtaken," Alvarado said.

According to Elina Miranda -- country coordinator for the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria-- there were 18,282 HIV/AIDS cases reported in the country between1984, when the first case of AIDS was diagnosed, and February. However,because of a lack of an effective monitoring system, many HIV/AIDScases are not reported, Miranda said. According to Miranda,heterosexual sex is the main route of HIV transmission in El Salvador,accounting for 79% of HIV cases in the country. Mario Orellana --representative of the nongovernmental organization Prevensida, which isparticipating in the testing campaign -- said that the government'sefforts to curb the spread of HIV have several shortcomings. "Moremonitoring is needed, as well as greater awareness-raising efforts andsystematic consciousness-raising campaigns," Orellana said (Gutierrez, Inter Press Service, 7/3).
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