Venezuelan Refugees Are Fleeing to Peru in Search of HIV Treatment
‘You can stay here and die or you can try to leave and find a solution to stay alive.’
Venezuelan migrants are flocking to Peru seeking HIV/AIDS treatment, the Guardian reports.
Peru’s public health system guarantees free treatment for foreigners and nationals, making the country a destination for HIV/AIDS care. In the wake of a decade-long humanitarian crisis that shattered the healthcare system, many Venezuelans have no choice but to flee in search of better lives.
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Over 3 million refugees have fled Venezuela since 2015. In a little over a year, the number of Venezuelans migrating to Peru has quadrupled, due to the country’s growing economy, flexible labor market and looser migration laws, according to the Guardian. It’s difficult to measure how many Venezuelans currently live with HIV/AIDS since the health ministry stopped publishing health data in 2017. But an estimated 120,000 Venezuelans were living with HIV in 2016, and there were 6,500 new infections and 2,500 AIDS-related deaths reported that year, according to UNAids.
Antiretrovirals, the medications used to manage HIV/AIDS, were available free of charge in Venezuela until 2017. When the healthcare system fell apart, they could only be purchased on the black market, costing up to $500 a pill, Darwin Zerpa, a 29-year-old HIV-positive Venezuelan, said. The Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation estimates AIDS-related deaths have more than doubled as a result of an 85% shortage of medicines in the country.
UNIAIDS expresses concern about anti-gay Maduro regime in Venezuela arresting HIV activists & confiscating anti-retroviral drugs & milk formulas for babies of mothers living with HIV. Maduro's oppression of HIV-positive people is shameful https://t.co/YgAWTYpHAL— Peter Tatchell Fdn (@PT_Foundation) February 21, 2019
The increase in HIV/AIDS-positive Venezuelans seeking treatment in Peru is especially visible in Lima. In the city’s Plaza San Martín square, half the male sex workers seeking HIV tests are Venezuelans, according to AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) counselor Percy Cuba. Cuba said he’s seen twice as many male sex workers getting tested in the past two years.
“My doctor told me, ‘Darwin, you have two options: you can stay here and die or you can try to leave and find a solution to stay alive,” Zerpa, who works as a counselor with the AHF in Lima remembered.
AHF Doctor José Luis Sebastián said in the past few months the migrants arriving in Peru seeking HIV/AIDS treatment are low-income, and desperate for care.
AIDS is the second leading cause of death among young people (aged 10-24) globally. Young women are twice as likely to acquire HIV as young men. UNAids says countries must use all their available resources to fight the disease, and hold each other accountable if we’re going to end the epidemic by 2030.