HIV continues to spread among the Warao, one of Venezuela’s indigenous groups. Recently, hundreds of them who live in settlements like Jobure de Guayo were killed by the virus because of medicine shortage and widespread ignorance.
The HIV/AIDS program under President Hugo Chavez is currently labeled “world class,” and the country seemed to have the disease under control. However, in 2013 under the administration of former president Nicolas Maduro, the economy declined, therefore, putting a halt to the distribution of condoms and causing a shortage of medication and diagnostic tests.
In 2016, there were 120,000 Venezuelan adults and children diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, with 2500 deaths tallied. The prevalence rate among adults was at approximately 0.6 percent in the same year. Meanwhile, in 2013, Venezuela was among the countries listed as those most affected by the disease.
The shortage was once again experienced this year. In March, lack of antiretroviral drugs peaked at 100 percent in the country which affected more than 80,000 people with HIV. Alberto Nieves, the executive director of Acción Ciudadana Contra el SIDA (ACCSI), said that the deprivation of the existing, essential drugs was because of the need to take these medications along with the antiretroviral drugs which were unavailable at the time.
Nieves added that the country’s debt with the Strategic Fund for Medicines of the Pan American Health Organization is also the main reason of medicine shortage. The deficit, which reached 20 million dollars, even caused some medicine suppliers to be reluctant in selling the drugs to the country because of the enormous debt.
Dr. Jacobus de Waard, an expert on infectious disease at the Central University of Venezuela who has worked on observing the Waraos, said that what was most at stake is the future of the ancient culture. He added that the inaction and lack of intervention would lead the Warao’s population to a decline.
In 2013, nearly 10 percent of Warao adults tested positive for HIV. In another community, 35 percent have been recorded with the disease. Dr. Julian Villalba, one of the doctors who led the investigation, people never believed or paid attention to him regarding the worsening matter. Because of language barrier and absence of prevention programs, the Waraos just let the diseases flourish. Dr. Villalba also said that those he examined from 2010 to 2012 have already died.
A person could have HIV for 8 to 10 years without exhibiting any symptoms but can still spread the virus. The most common type among Venezuelans, the HIV-1 subtype B, could develop in the Waraos in less than five years.