If you head to a national clinic in Venezuela these days, you’ll probably see sights from a different era—and not in a good way.
In fact, according to Canada’s The Globe and Mail, “there is nowhere in the world today where people are dying of AIDS at the pace and in the sheer numbers that they are in Venezuela: Even the poorest African countries today have HIV treatment programs. They still don’t reach everyone, and people are still dying, or getting treatment only after they become very ill.”
Venezuela’s national free, public treatment for HIV had been the envy of the world going back as far as 1999. Back then, “Venezuela’s socialist government imported affordable generic drugs from India, challenged the patent monopolies of Western pharmaceutical companies and targeted marginalized communities, including sex workers, gay men and transgender people for free condom distribution — while most other countries were still grappling with the shame of HIV.”
The social and economic crisis that enveloped the nation over the last four years since Cesar Chavez’s death has hit HIV programs the hardest. People are dying at a rate not seen in decades. And according to Feliciano Reyna, a veteran activist who founded one of Venezuela’s oldest HIV organizations, “Occasional drug shortages began back in 2012."
Over the next two years, supplies often ran short until the government reached a sourcing agreement through the Pan American Health Organization that helps countries in the region (the rest of them are officially poorer than Venezuela) to buy drugs at a collectively negotiated price. “We got everyone back on treatment and they should have been tested for resistance, but already there were no tests like that available,” said Reyna, adding that condoms disappeared from the AIDS program in 2015, and basic HIV tests stopped being available a year ago.
The government is officially dismantling their HIV programs, as it's not a priority with housing, food, and water shortages facing the populace, says PRI.