Brazil Solves HIV Puzzle

 Brazil Solves HIV Puzzle

Brazil’s ability to
identify the AIDS virus was the result of genetic
mapping. The country has a unique AIDS program in which
everyone with the disease gets treated for free. At the moment,
there are 310,000 registered cases of AIDS in Brazil. The number
of "expected" cases in 2004 was supposed to be 1.2 million.
by: Irene

Brazil will inform the 15th World Conference on AIDS, which is
taking place in Thailand, that the country is able to solve the puzzle of
the HIV type 1 virus, and can detect and specify with precision variants and
subtypes found in people who are infected by the disease. All told, Brazil
will present 25 papers at the conference.

The ability to identify
the AIDS virus was the result of genetic mapping at the Federal University
of São Paulo (Unifesp). Mapping the genetic sequence is important in
finding a cure (in the form of an antiretroviral vaccine), as well as formulating
public policy in dealing with and controlling the disease.

Brazil, as is well-known,
has a unique AIDS program, which basically consists of government assistance,
free of charge, for anyone with the disease. The country provides AIDS drugs,
now mostly cheaper, generic, domestic-made versions of brand-name medicines.

Brazilian representatives
at the AIDS conference will report that the program is a success, having cut
the expected number of cases in the country significantly. At the moment,
there are 310,000 registered cases of AIDS in Brazil. The number of "expected"
cases in 2004 was supposed to be 1.2 million.

AIDS Vaccine

In June, a trial of a
preventive AIDS vaccine began in Brazil. With 14,000 new AIDS cases every
day around the world, the danger of an epidemic is real and must be dealt
with, says José Valdez Madruga, who coordinates part of the research
on the vaccine and is connected to a worldwide network of researchers. He
says that although the vaccine is still in an embryonic stage, he hopes it
will work and be available in a few years.

Most HIV positive patients
in Brazil have a variant B subtype. However, researchers are concerned with
the appearance of other subtypes, such as the C subtype, which has been found
in the southern part of Brazil.

Biologist Maria Cecília
Araripe Sucupira of Unifesp reports that a study of AIDS in the city of Santos
(state of São Paulo), where there has been a high rate of the disease,
has found that drug resistant strains have appeared.

Sucupira points out that
various factors can cause the appearance of such strains. People do not take
their AIDS drugs correctly, for example. There is also the poverty factor,
especially in the Northeast region, she says. And finally, there has been
a worrisome spike in cases of AIDS among women.

UN Commends Brazil

The 2004 Report on the
Global Aids Epidemic commends the advances made by Brazil in the area of preventing
the disease. Released yesterday July 6 in Brasília by the United Nations
HIV/Aids Program (UNAids), the document cites the increase in condom consumption
as a positive item.

According to the Ministry
of Health’s National STD/Aids Program, condom consumption grew from 150 million
in 1994 to over 600 million in 2003.

The report also highlights
Brazil’s progress in the treatment of carriers of the disease. Of the 400
thousand people around the world who have access to anti-retroviral medicines,
140 thousand live in Brazil.

The Brazilian government
spends US$ 229.6 million (700 million reais) annually on Aids treatment; 60
percent of this total is used to purchase medications.

"This policy of furnishing
universal treatment to carriers of the virus made it possible to reduce mortality
by 50 percent and enabled the National Health System (SUS) to save around
US$ 2 million (6.1 million reais) in the past five years," affirms the
Director of the Ministry’s STD/Aids Program, Alexandre Grangeiro.

The report also underscores
Brazil’s leadership in cooperative efforts among Southern hemisphere countries,
especially those in Latin America and Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa,
which receive donations of medicines from Brazil to treat the disease.

"Brazil’s example
to the world is the big contribution made by civil society in controlling
Aids. The partnership between governments and non-governmental organizations
(NGO’s) and the innovative perspective of the NGO’s in terms of making new
technologies available permitted the country to make very significant progress,
especially in the area of prevention," proclaims the Director of UNAids
in Brazil, Pedro Chequer.

HIV and Drugs

The Global Report on Drugs,
released June 25 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC),
cites Brazil as an international model in the fight against HIV virus infections
among users of injectable drugs.

Around 13 million people
all over the world use injectable drugs. Approximately 78 percent of these
users live in developing countries, and the sharing of syringes and needles
is the principal factor of transmission in these cases. In Brazil, the incidence
of HIV among injectable drug users dropped from 24.5 percent to 12.1 percent
between 1994 and 2002.

In comparative terms,
the UNODC study reveals that, among this population, the disease "easily
affects 50 percent, reaching 90 percent in some parts of the world."
Opium and heroin consumption is considered the most troublesome.

The report indicates that
67 percent of the treatments resulting from drug consumption in Asia stem
from the consumption of opium derivatives. In Europe this index is 61 percent,
according to the UNODC representative in Brazil, Giovanni Quaglia.

Condoms Thai Style

The Coordinator of the
National STD/Aids Program, Alexander Grangeiro, revealed at the end of June
that Brazil may import technology developed in Thailand to produce condoms.

"The condoms manufactured
there are 40 times less expensive than the ones sold here," observed
Grangeiro, who participated in a meeting, June 21, with representatives of
the Thai government.

"They are willing
to share the know-how and transfer this technology for Brazil to obtain better
results, when it installs a condom factory."

Thailand and Brazil are
members of a seven-country group with plans to establish a technology exchange
network for combating the HIV virus. China, India, Russia, and South Africa
also belong to this group.

Representatives from these
countries are currently engaged in a diagnosis of each country’s potential.
The partnership can help the group deal with new challenges in fighting the

One such challenge will
arise next year, when developing countries will adhere to a World Trade Organization
(WTO) agreement that sets rules for protecting intellectual property.

To comply with this agreement—known
as Trips—these countries will patent the anti-retroviral drugs produced
by their industries. The prices of these medications will tend to rise as
a result.

This change disturbs representatives
of international organisms. The director of the French Aids Research Agency,
Michel Kazatchkine, is afraid that the price increase will decrease the number
of people benefited by the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.
Two years ago this fund, fed by the developing countries, established a war
chest of US$ 3 billion.

"Over half this money
is used for the treatment of Aids in African countries," according to
Kazatchkine, one of the members of the Global Fund’s management committee.

"The Fund currently
makes it possible to treat 1.3 million people. This in places where, until
recently, only the high-income population had access to medications."

Irene Lobo works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency
of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at

from the Portuguese by David Silberstein

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