U.N. report: More than two million people with HIV across Latin America, Caribbean

About 200,000 new HIV cases were reported in the past two years in Latin America and the Caribbean, which together have some 2.1 million people infected with the virus, according to a U.N. report released Monday.

In 2005, the disease claimed an estimated 66,000 lives across Latin America and 24,000 lives in the Caribbean region, the report stated.

Brazil, Argentina and Colombia are the South American countries with the most cases of AIDS, mostly because of the their large populations. Brazil alone accounts for more than a third of the people living with HIV in the region.

The only country in the region that showed a reduction of the AIDS rate was Haiti, where the percentage of pregnant women testing positive for AIDS between 2003-2004 dropped to 3.1, or half of what it was in 1993, according to the report.

In the Caribbean, the report showed some declines in the prevalence of HIV among pregnant women, increased condoms use among sex workers and the expansion of voluntary testing and counseling.

The Brazilian health ministry estimated that about 600,000 of the country's 182 million people are HIV positive. The report said however, that with respect to antiretroviral treatment, Brazil has set an example for the region.

Brazil expects to end 2005 providing a cocktail of anti-AIDS medication to some 170,000 people free-of-charge.

One problem Argentina faces is disseminating HIV information in small towns and rural areas, where AIDS is still not talked about, said Dr. Lorena Di Giano, a representative from the Argentine Network of People living with HIV and AIDS, during a press conference in Buenos Aires.

"If we don't give out information (on HIV), what we're doing is violating the human rights of our children," Di Giano said.

Jose Maria Di Bello, HIV and AIDS program coordinator for Red Cross Argentina, estimated that approximately three-fourths of the people living with HIV in Argentina do not know they are infected. He said information for tests and treatment need to be made more available nationwide.

Despite the large number of AIDS cases in Brazil, Argentina and Colombia, the highest incidence of the disease is in smaller countries like Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, three nations where around 1 percent of the adult population was infected with HIV, at the end of 2003, according to the latest available data.

In Latin America the epidemic is fueled by the combination of unprotected sexual relations, both between heterosexual and homosexual partners, and the consumption of intravenous drugs, according to the reported.

On a global level, women are experiencing higher infection rates than ever before. The U.N. report revealed that nearly half of the new HIV cases over the past two years were found in women, AP reported. V.A.

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