HIV affecting more women

Panama has seen a rise in HIV infections in women. HIV infections have increased by 9% since 2019 and deaths related to AIDS by 20%.

In Panama, 337 people of working age have died from the virus in 2010. Five years later, the figure reached 363, according to the latest report of the International Labor Organization (ILO) presented in Geneva (Switzerland) last week on the negative effects that AIDS still has in the economy.

"On the positive side, The positive fact is that the treatment for HIV is totally paid by the State and is free in Panama  but treatment deteriorate due to  shortages. Panama separates money for antiretroviral drugs and get bogged down at the administrative level thus  run out of drugs, " says Ángel Ávila , an activist and spokesperson for the Unified Civil Society in HIV in Panama, an alliance of nine organizations and four regional networks, united for the first time to influence political decisions on AIDS.

Three decades ago little was known about this epidemic, which later took on legends in the music industry such as Freddy Mercury as well as several Hollywood stars. Paradoxically, with more information at hand.  In 2016, the number of people diagnosed living with the virus was 20,873. Of that total, only 52% are receiving treatment, according to updated data from the National HIV Program.

"The profile of new AIDS patients is of increasingly younger people and women. When the epidemic began in Panama, the statistic was of 17 men affected for each woman, and now there are 3 men for each woman. As for the age group, it used to be between 15 and 45 years old, while now the balance tilts towards people between 15 and 25 years old, "Avila points out.

The last 20 years have been key to reducing the prevalence of the disease in Latin America. The region has gone from being the global area with the worst burden of death and disease due to HIV-AIDS at the end of the 20th century, to being the fourth most affected region, after sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the Eastern region and center of Europe in 2010. The reason is that governments made an effort to provide free treatment to patients.

In Panama, according to the latest available data, the Government invested $ 42 million for treatment and prevention in 2014. The majority of the budget is dedicated to treatment, which leaves the issue of prevention unprotected.

"In the last two decades we have tried to advocate prevention, but it costs a lot, especially due to the withdrawal of the Global Fund and private donors, unfortunately we are considered as a middle-income countryand we do no longer qualify in the  parameters of subsidies, "says the expert.

The Unified Civil Society on HIV proposes that HIV testing campaigns be permanent. "Currently the Office of the First Lady promotes two HIV testing campaigns free of charge to pregnant women, key population groups and adolescents during the months of June and December. Campaigns are needed all year round, "he said.

The problem is the work with the populations has been carried out exclusively by social organizations. Dayra García, executive director of the Living Positively Association, points out that her main concern is that the government is not responding adequately due to the lack of articulation with the NGOs. We need to work with the health system, either through Minsa [Ministry of Health] or the Social Security Fund.

The main stigma surrounding HIV is that those affected continue to be rejected from job offers, rejected at the time of requesting a bank loan and are having t difficulties in finding a partner.

"The majority of the population choose to remain silent," says Ávila, who worked for two years at Santo Tomás Hospital, where 40% of the population with HIV is treated.

"People do not  want to make their condition public. Many keep it as a secret. The stigma is still very strong,