Issue - January 2007

January 2007

Once again, a New Year is starting with plenty of hopes and ideas for 2007 making it even better than the last one.

We have a special commitment with organizations and people that look out for the welfare of other more...

January 2007

Taboo or Not Taboo?

by Jessica Toale

First harvest

The problem with discussing HIV/AIDS is that it is so inextricably linked with sex. Heterosexual sex, homosexual sex, oral sex, anal sex, sexuality, and sex toys even in the most liberal societies have long been considered taboos in their own right. But the irony of it all is that sex, more than anything, demands open communication and responsibility.

Before coming to Bolivia my knowledge of the ins and outs of HIV/AIDS transmission and prevention had been limited to 9th grade health class and the sports medicine option in gym class I had had to take to cover my high school health credit. Similarly at university, it was an elusive topic. Sure there were campaigns to realize tests for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea, but HIV, nope.

Although the Bolivian state has not been able to design an effective prevention strategy, mostly due to lack of financial and human resources, I have nevertheless been impressed with the social consciousness in Cochabamba regarding HIV/AIDS education. The work of RedBol+, the national network of people living with HIV/AIDS, and el Instituto para el Desarrollo Humano (IDH) have achieved a significant difference in the way HIV/AIDS transmission and prevention is taught, talked about, and accepted. IDH also has a network of over 100 volunteers who work to promote education and the human rights of PLWHA through the annual ExpoSida, various information sessions at colleges, and by participating in planned activities on World AIDS Day, December 1st.

Despite this activity, the number of registered cases of HIV continues to grow. The baffling thing is that while people are more willing to talk about safe sex and HIV/AIDS prevention the virus continues to rage. As of 2006 there were approximately 2000 people registered living with HIV in Bolivia, 94% of whom had acquired the virus through sexual transmission. This datum owns to a variety of socio-cultural factors such as lack of information, refusal to use information, excessive consumption of alcohol, machismo and the economic position of women and children. In addition to this UNAIDS estimates that for each registered case there exist 10 more unknown cases.

This uncertainty in the facts is due to the asymptomatic nature of the HIV infection and places an even bigger importance on being well informed and speaking openly about prevention. Prevention is also, unfortunately, the only answer for Bolivia as many of the people already infected with HIV have no access to treatments or necessary medicines. Bolivia, being a developing country, is prohibited by free trade agreements from manufacturing generic drugs to treat AIDS and relies on donations from countries such as Brazil, Canada and from the Global Fund. Due to the nature of donations, continuity in treatment is not guaranteed to the people who need it. This is particularly dangerous due to the virus's huge capacity to mutate and become resistant to certain drug schemes when not completed.

While the AIDS pandemic continues to rage worldwide, it is my belief that the good work of various groups in Cochabamba and Bolivia has begun to alleviate the taboo associated with HIV/ AIDS. Changes within press coverage and the willingness to openly discuss these topics in families and amongst students I have come across are all positive outcomes of the work RedBol+ and IDH have done in the past ten years. The battle is by no means over, discrimination still exists and there is still so much more to do and so many more people that can be reached. But the achievements thus far and the way in which HIV/AIDS can be discussed openly and objectively have surprised even me.

My life in Taricaya
Despite having been in Cochabamba for over two weeks now I still find myself completely unaccustomed to the wonderfully peaceful nights sleep (without rude interruption by rat, opossum or cockroach), delicious food and presence of street lights and cars as opposed to fire flies and peccaries!?
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