The island has to renew its efforts to reduce HIV infection rates, intensifying prevention measures.
The Municipality of San Juan was among the 50 U.S. jurisdictions with the largest increase in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) diagnoses from 2016 to 2017. The federal government separated $13.5 million to stop that trend. Of that package, $375,000 would go to local efforts.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in addition to San Juan, the areas with the highest incidence of infection include Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and Orange, Palm Beach, Miami Dade, Pinellas and Fulton Counties, in Florida. The federal government aims to reduce new HIV infections by 90 percent by 2030.
An upward trend has been detected on the island since 2005, when 1,275 new HIV cases were reported. In 2011, there were 700 new diagnoses. Over those seven years, new infections totaled 6,700 nationwide. Fluctuations, including some recent decline, make it necessary to carry out effective initiatives against HIV/AIDS.
It is posible to stop the spread of the disease by educating groups that may be at risk. This includes discouraging needle sharing or promoting the use of protection during sexual relations.
As part of those efforts, it will be important to support community groups fighting for the rights of HIV/AIDS patients, to whom the United Nations dedicated the events of the World AIDS Day last Sunday.
The UN considers it is important to pay tribute to the work of community entities for the work done over the years to reduce the impact of the disease and fight discrimination against those who suffer from it or are diagnosed with the virus.
Since 1981, when the first case of AIDS was detected in the world, a group of volunteers sought better treatments for patients and tried to prevent the enforcement of regulations that often represented the difference between life and death.
We welcome the international initiative to honor communities. We must support entities that promote prevention and strive for greater and appropriate access to treatment. In addition to recognizing their value, governments and all members of society must support community organizations to secure economic, legal, and political support.
36.9 million people are living with HIV in the world. Of those, 21.7 million receive antiretroviral treatment, according to the UN, which recorded 1.8 million new infections in 2018.
In Puerto Rico, there are 49,889 diagnosed cases of HIV/AIDS up to September 30, 2019. On the island, the most at-risk groups are intravenous drug addicts with 46 percent of diagnosed cases, according to the local Health Department, which has reported that 27 percent of infections are associated with unprotected heterosexual contact and 18 percent with unprotected sex between men.
Today, different online educational tools, as well as additional free materials to strengthen prevention, are valuable resources to guide young people in schools, colleges, churches, and other institutions. Education is the first tool to protect health and, according to experts, campaigns should be fine-tuned to better target the most vulnerable populations.
Citizens can contribute by spreading information on prevention. They can support and encourage groups that focus on avoiding bureaucracy or other obstacles that affect effective programs.
Puerto Rico has to work so that no sector on the island lacks efforts to eradicate AIDS. The island has contributed to important research against this disease; it must remain at the forefront of the international fight against AIDS to protect the health of our people.