A Peruvian Survivor Fights to Bridge the Gap Between Prevention and Treatment
Enrique Chavez, 44, of Lima, Peru, said he’s the living face of HIV.
The South American delegate to the 2011 U.N. High Level Meeting on AIDS said he was not afraid of dying because, after 21 years of living with HIV, he’s still here.
“Maybe God has a plan for me, to show someone can live with HIV, not AIDS,” he said this week. “There’s a difference. … You can live if you take care of yourself.”
Chavez was told he had HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in 1990, when he was 23. He has been taking medication ever since. With recent advances in medication, Chavez, along with notable HIV patients such as Magic Johnson, are living longer and healthier lives. But Chavez said there were still disparities in treatment, care and support for HIV patients in his country.
“In Peru, 10 years ago, we didn’t have any medication and you basically waited to die,” he said. “My first experience with medication was sent from the United States.” He said there was still “a lot of discrimination and stigmas.”
As a delegate, an Aid for AIDS International advocate and a person living with HIV, Chavez said he had been fighting to bridge the gap between prevention and treatment.
“The problem is that many separate prevention and treatment,” he said, “but it has to work simultaneously.”
In addition, Chavez said, youths must be engaged in the prevention and awareness effort.
“We need to work with the youth,” he said. “This is really, really important. The youth need more opportunities and tools to equip them to make educated decisions about sex. When I contracted HIV, I didn’t have the opportunity for access or education about sex.”
Chavez said the government must follow through with previous declarations if officials wanted to change the course of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and commit to universal access to health care.
“Every five years, the government changes, and maybe they don’t have a real commitment to this cause,” he said. “In 2001 they signed an agreement, and in 2006; and now we are in 2011 and they want to sign another agreement.”
Chavez was referring to the 2001 Declaration of Commitment on HIV and AIDS in which governments made a series of time-bound commitments to expand their efforts to address HIV. Five years later, governments made a historic commitment at the United Nations to drastically ramp up the AIDS-prevention response in a Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS.
The goals and targets agreed to by member states in the United Nations General Assembly expired at the end of 2010, according to the 2011 UNAIDS Report.
Chavez challenged world leaders to make greater strides toward action this time around in a new declaration.
“When they are signing agreements, they need to do what it says,” Chavez said.
In the meantime, he said, he won’t wait around for government action but will continue to work and be the face of life and hope for HIV/AIDS patients in his country and around the world.
“This work is never going to finish,” Chavez said. “Every day you have a new challenge and you have things to do.”