World AIDS Day Celebrations in Ica, Peru
Update 106. 30 November 2004
December 1st will see World Aids Day events taking place throughout the world. The community of Ica, a coastal town not far south of Lima, will be celebrating at the 'Health Centre for the Defence of Life'. They have a lot to celebrate. The work of the centre, in collaboration with other organisations in Peru, have lobbied the government to bring about a law that states that those who are HIV positive have the right to free treatment with basic ARV (Anti-Retroviral) drugs.
Sophie Paton, the PSG Co-ordinator, met with Lourdes Ninapaytai-Inka, the champion of the health project, to find out about their challenges and successes and to talk to her about HIV and AIDS in Peru.
Levels of HIV+AIDS in Peru
One of the concerns Lourdes has is the misrepresentation of the real levels of HIV+AIDS in Peru. She said, “The government are afraid that if they release the real levels of AIDS in the country, it will threaten private investment.” Although levels are no where near as high as in Africa, the problem is certainly rapidly increasing in Latin America. Lourdes stated, “If this problem continues at the current rate, and the government don’t invest in resources to prevent it, Latin America could be the next Africa.”
THE WORK OF THE HEALTH CENTRE
The health centre was set up by communities who migrated to coastal towns from the sierra during the worst years of the armed conflict. Often Quechua speaking subsistence farmers, these communities faced the challenge of making a new life in a wildly different landscape. With these challenges came many health problems, including HIV and a new strain of TB as well as social problems such as prostitution and malnutrition that exacerbate health issues.
The principal aim of the health centre is education, and to raise awareness of the importance of prevention of bad health, including HIV. The centre promotes the traditional Andean use of natural alternative medicines as well as mainstream treatments, and as a policy always trys to prescribe a natural rememdy before turning to other medicines, thereby preserving knowledge of traditional medicine. However, they are working to increase access to ARV drugs to as many positive people as possible.
Although the most common method to contract the virus is through sexual relations, there is currently no sexual health education in schools. The Health Centre for the Defense of life runs a programme with ‘health promoters’, young people who go to schools and give workshops on sexual health.
Lordes said, “There is little knowledge of HIV+AIDS in either the general population or in the Ministry of Health.”