Nicaragua continues to fare better than its Central American neighbors when it comes to HIV/AIDS. But that does not mean there is no cause for concern. The illness has already killed nearly 900 people since it was first detected in Nicaragua in 1987, and, though government interest in the problem has certainly grown in recent years, so, too, has the number of reported infections.
In the past year, more than 1,300 Nicaraguans were officially diagnosed as HIV carriers, bringing the national total of people living with the virus to 6,122, according to the Ministerio de Salud (MINSA). During that same period, 45 people died from the illness.
The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) puts the total number of HIV cases somewhat higher--6,900 as of 2009. Overall, that amounts to an HIV prevalence rate of 0.2% in Nicaragua, well below the overall Latin American average of 0.6%. The adult prevalence rate in the US and Canada is estimated at 0.7%.
MINSA head Enrique Beteta released the government's latest HIV statistics May 18 during a "solidarity" march in support of Nicaraguans living with HIV and AIDS. The Managua event was co-organized by MINSA; the Comision Nicaraguense del SIDA (CONISIDA), a public-private partnership formed in 2000, and the Asociacion de Personas con el VIH y el SIDA (ASONVIHSIDA), a nonprofit organization. The collaborating groups held a similar event last November.
Beteta told reporters that the government--led by President Daniel Ortega of the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (FSLN)--is committed to "restoring rights to people affected by HIV and AIDS." It is also making a concerted effort to control the spread of the disease, distributing a million condoms a year and offering free HIV tests nationwide (160,000 so far this year). Nicaragua can still "contain the epidemic by focusing on education and information," said Beteta.
Compared to its Central American neighbors, Nicaragua has reason to be optimistic--or at least to count its blessings. Its 0.2% HIV prevalence rate is the lowest on the isthmus. El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, by contrast, have prevalence rates of 0.8%. Together, the three countries have a combined 150,000 people living with the virus, according to the most recent UNAIDS Global Report.
An estimated 20,000 people are HIV-positive in Panama, where the prevalence rate is 0.9%. And in tiny Belize, the prevalence rate is 2.3%, the highest in Latin America. Even Costa Rica, Central...