At a glance: Peru

Peru: Education is key to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS

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© UNICEF video
Students in Cusco are given health education through a plan backed by UNICEF.

By Christian Mejia and Jane O’Brien

CUSCO, Peru, 10 November 2005 – The vast majority of people infected with HIV/AIDS in Peru are young adults – most of whom have no idea they are carrying the virus. The most common route of transmission is through sexual contact, but taboos surrounding the subject have hindered attempts to raise awareness.

“In our society it is still very hard to talk about sexually transmitted diseases and HIV because this subject is still taboo or because adolescents have the wrong information,” says Carla Aragón Vallenas, a nurse in the Andean town of Cusco.

Seventy per cent of the population in Peru is under 25. Educating young people and children is crucial to fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS. An increasing number of cases of AIDS are being reported in this age group.

UNICEF has started HIV/AIDS education workshops for students in Cusco in partnership with CERETS – a referral centre for sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS. The centre is run by the Antonio Lorena Hospital and is the first of its kind in Cusco.

“From the preventative work we have been doing we can see that the HIV problem is still taboo. And now we plan to attack this problem through the educational centres in a project together with UNICEF,” says Alipio León Torres, a psychologist with CERETS.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
Prostitutes in Cusco. Most HIV infections in Peru are sexually transmitted.

Free diagnosis and treatment

The centre also organizes peer counselling among sex workers. Sonia is a sex worker who also talks to other women about the risks. “Sometimes I talk alone, sometimes accompanied by another health promoter who is also a sex worker,” she says. “We take some pamphlets and give them some kind of information. Many of these girls don’t know that HIV/AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease.”

Sex workers are particularly vulnerable and peer education is often the best way of reaching them.

There are 86 known cases of HIV/AIDS in Cusco although the real number is thought to be nearer a thousand. Most people do not seek medical treatment until they have advanced symptoms. The clinic at Antonio Lorena Hospital is open to everyone and offers free diagnosis, anti-retroviral drugs and counselling.


 

 

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10 November 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Jane O’Brien reports on how children are affected by HIV/AIDS in Peru.

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