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AIDS Threatens Venezuela’s Indigenous Population


Entire cultures are at risk due to failing government programs. 

While HIV rates continue to slowly decline in many parts of the world, Venezuela’s are climbing, due to unprecedented political instability. The Warao indigenous people who live near the Orinoco Delta are among those in Venezuela who struggle the hardest to locate even the most basic HIV medicine and care, and it’s putting Venezuela’s ancient indigenous culture at risk.

Starting in 2013, under the regime of President Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s once world-class health care system is now in shambles — as the nation’s economy plummets and doctors flee for a better life elsewhere. The nation’s indigenous peoples are receiving the brunt of collapse.

If you’ve ever wondered what would happen to HIV resources in developed countries in the event of a near-government collapse, look no further than the current situation in Venezuela.

Warao community leaders say the Venezuelan government is completely ignoring the HIV epidemic in the area. The community, even during the hardest times, received a minimal amount of shipments of free condoms, but now they’re not even receiving that. Venezuelan AIDS activists say that diagnoses rates have skyrocketed, despite what rare state-approved HIV announcements may say, which are sporadic and often misleading.

“If there’s no intervention, it’s going to affect the existence of the Warao,” Dr. Jacobus de Waard, an expert in infectious diseases at the Central University of Venezuela told The New York Times. “A part of the population is going to disappear.”

There is no way of sugarcoating the situation the Warao currently face. A 2013 study published at the National Institutes of Health indicated that nearly 10 percent of Warao adults living in eight villages in the delta area are HIV-positive—a dramatic departure from the relatively low prevalence in other South American communities. Jobure de Guayo is one of the indigenous towns that have been ravaged by untreated HIV. Rafael Pequeño, a nurse who helped treat villagers in Jobure de Guayo two years ago, is familiar with the decline in treatment availability. Once he returned to the village, five out of the 15 villagers enrolled in the HIV program died of AIDS complications. 

According to The New York Times, a mafia organization has since stepped in and now controls the flow of gasoline, which makes having access to HIV medicine even harder to obtain.

Not too long ago, Venezuela’s health care system was intact when the country was under the rule of Hugo Chávez. Unfortunately after his death, the democratic socialist system that once operated smoothly and generated high literacy rates would quickly fall apart under Maduro. The current horrifying scenario involves people who once had access to daily medication, whose HIV has progressed to AIDS after going without antiretrovirals for many months, reports DW. The farther away people are from civilization, where some resources are available, makes it more difficult to find HIV treatment.

The situation is dire, and goes well beyond HIV. In fact, up to 80 to 95 percent of all medication in Venezuela is difficult to find. Venezuela is seeing HIV rates that it hasn’t seen since the 1980s, when the virus wasn’t even completely understood.

StopHIV is one of the few organizations in Venezuela dedicated to controlling the spread of HIV that is still operating. The organization provides reliable and unbiased news about the positive and negative developments about HIV in Venezuela, and is covering the situation in indigenous communities. Until someone steps in and addresses the AIDS problem, Venezuela’s Warao people will continue lacking the medication they need to ensure their culture's health and safety. 

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Benjamin M. Adams