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Brazil bucks AIDS trend

Brazil has reported a slight decrease in HIV infections  on Wednesday, but blamed racism for a marked increase in the proportion of AIDS cases among blacks.
/ Source: Reuters

Bucking a global rise in HIV infection, Brazil reported a slight fall on Wednesday in the spread of the virus last year but blamed racism for a marked increase in the proportion of AIDS cases among blacks.

The federal government’s AIDS program, which distributes condoms and anti-retroviral drugs, helped lower cases among critical groups such as teenagers, young women and children, the health ministry said.

Brazil, Latin’s America’s most populous country, also cut the rate of AIDS transmission through intravenous drug use with free syringes and publicity campaigns.

Overall, the number of new AIDS cases fell to 30,886 in 2004 from 33,904 in 2003. Brazilians with the virus fell to 17.2 per 100,000 people from 19.2 in 2003, the ministry said.

However, it said that between 2000 and 2004 new cases of AIDS among people who declared themselves black or brown rose from 33.4 percent of the total to 37.2 percent for men and from 35.6 percent to 42.4 percent for women.

“It’s clear racism is an additional factor making people vulnerable,” said Pedro Chequer, who heads the government program. “When a poor white and a poor black go into the public health system, the poor white gets treated better.”

One billion condoms
Around 47 percent of Brazil’s 185 million people are black. Half of them live in poverty, according to government figures, and they are twice as likely as whites to be poor, receive less schooling and are more likely to die younger.

Blacks are nearly twice as likely as whites not to know how HIV is transmitted or not know how to protect themselves from the virus, a government study showed.

The ministry is set to launch a “AIDS is Racism” campaign which will encourage blacks to seek information on HIV/AIDS.

Chequer said the country would also buy a record one billion condoms in 2006 and begin production at what he believed would be the world’s first state-run condom factory.

Worldwide, HIV infections increased by nearly three million people between 2002 and 2004 and hit a record five million new cases in 2005, according to the United Nations body UNAIDS.

Brazil has defied 1990s forecasts the AIDS epidemic would ravage its young, sexually active population.

Begun in 1997, its free universal access to AIDS drugs has become a U.N.-recommended model for the developing world.