Volunteers lead in the promotion of HIV testing and treatment in Latin America

Published: 29 November 2013 14:31 CET

While the number of new infections each year in Latin America has stabilised, there are 1.5 million people still living with HIV across the region. The epidemic affects disproportionately key populations at higher risk of infection, such as  female, male and transgender sex workers and men who have sex with men (MSM).

Antiretroviral therapy drastically reduces the impact of the virus, prevents mother-to-child transmission and can reduce the risk of transmitting HIV between sexual partners by up to 96 per cent.

However, high levels of stigma and discrimination, as well as profound social and economic inequality, make it difficult to reach the most at-risk and marginalised populations with prevention services and  life-saving treatment.

National Red Cross Societies have been scaling up activities to increase access to testing and treatment in Latin America, as part of the Global Alliance on HIV. In 2012 alone, volunteers reached around 1.5 million people with prevention messages, and advocated for the rights of at-risk populations including sex workers, men who have sex with men, injecting drug users and transgender people.

Red Cross programmes in Latin America and in the Caribbean actively supported around 14,000 people living with HIV, tested 1,500 HIV patients for TB and gave adherence support to over 6,500 people undergoing antiretroviral therapy in 2012 alone.

The Guatemalan Red Cross, for example, has been working together with the Ministry of Health in order to increase access to health, prevent further infections and save lives. Since 2009, volunteers have been trained to provide testing and counselling, and have expanded access to the hardest-to-reach and marginalised communities throughout the country.

These volunteers have reached well over 100,000 people with prevention messages, and now have access to over 6,000 testing kits as part of their ‘Get Tested’ campaign to encourage people to find out their HIV status. They are also maintaining close relationships with marginalised groups, reaching around 5,000 people at the highest risk of contracting HIV, like sex workers and men who have sex with men.

HIV volunteers can be recruited in many different areas of society: for example, the Guatemalan Red Cross has been training taxi drivers in HIV prevention and anti-stigma and discrimination messages to pass on to their passengers, helping to reach every corner of the country.

The Red Cross Red Crescent is calling for better recognition, funding and promotion of volunteerism as an integral part of health systems throughout the world. They provide a crucial link between people living with HIV and the treatment they need to survive, as well as creating a wide range of benefits for others and for themselves.

People across Latin America and the Caribbean must work together to help ensure universal access to cost-effective HIV testing, treatment and care, saving lives and preventing further infections.

Learn more about what Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers do to improve access to health, promote community empowerment and ultimately contribute towards achieving universal health coverage.

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