The first official case of HIV in Brazil was reported at the beginning of the 1980s in the middle of a socially, economically, and politically critical period in the history of the South American country. The first outbreak of the disease took place in a decade when Brazilians were returning to democracy after 20 years of military dictatorship, and a time where the current publicly funded health care system saw its conception. Forty years later, the most populated country in Latin America has also the highest amount of HIV cases in the region, with over 960,000 people living with the virus as of 2021. Though it is Haiti who has the highest HIV prevalence among Latin American and Caribbean countries, Brazil also accounts for the largest number of deaths stemming from complications related to AIDS, the disease resulting from an HIV infection.
A controversial, yet globally recognized approach
In the years following the first registered cases and as the virus began to spread, the Brazilian government decided to put in place a variety of programs targeting the ongoing health crisis. The focus of the approach was aimed towards prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Though policies such as information campaigns were established, it was needle exchange schemes, the distribution of condoms, and other similar measures that turned out to be controversial. Particularly, the universal provision of antiretroviral medications, and preventive treatments such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) were contested. However, the implementation of these measures in collaboration with all kinds of relevant actors, including key groups within the population itself, allowed not only for a more controlled HIV epidemic, but also a longer and healthier life for HIV-positive patients, making the Brazilian strategy a model for other developing countries facing similar outbreaks.
Research and development at the core of the pandemic
Beyond social and sanitary policies, contention of the pandemic has greatly benefited from advances in the area of research and development. Though a big proportion of the R&D budget has been financed by highly industrialized countries such as the United States and some European nations, places with a higher HIV prevalence such as regions in southern Africa have been crucial for the implementation of clinical trials. As of June 2023, a total of 221 clinical studies related to HIV and AIDS had been registered in Brazil. Out of the total, six were put in place during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and 15 others were completed that same year. With progress on research has also come hope for better treatment and prevention methods, and a longing for the development of an effective and implementable vaccine. However, despite advances, the epidemic still prevails, and with a younger generation and the availability of modern treatments, new challenges will need addressing in the face of an evolving sanitary crisis.
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