When it comes to the fight against AIDS in Latin America, there is reason to be optimistic. According to UNAIDS, the epidemic is stable, infections are declining, and overall treatment coverage is high.

Thanks largely to wider spread availability of anti-retroviral therapy, the number of people dying from AIDS-related causes declined by 10 percent between 2005 and 2011, and approximately 1.4 million people are currently living with the disease.

“Pressure over the human rights of AIDS prevention, treatment and care has resulted in improved government policies and a better overall situation,” says Dr. Carmen Barroso, regional director at International Planned Parenthood Federation.

Stigma, discrimination and other challenges

Despite the progress, Barroso says there are still challenges. “Women are more likely to be infected than men, and treatment is not reaching vulnerable populations like sex workers and homosexual men who are often the objects of stigma and discrimination.”

"In many Central American countries it is taboo to talk about sex, yet everyone is practicing sex without protection."

Yadira Villaseñor, regional director for IntraHealth International’s USAID|Central America Capacity Project, says breaking down cultural barriers can also be a struggle. ”In many Central American countries it is taboo to talk about sex, yet everyone is practicing sex without protection."

Adding to the problem, she says, are low economic resources that can make it challenging “to increase access to quality services provided by well-trained health workers."

Millennium Development Goal 6

Thirteen years after 189 world leaders came together at a United Nations summit and committed to do their part to end extreme poverty by 2015, the eight Millennium Development Goals are still a work in progress. Number six aimed to stop and reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS as well as achieve universal access to treatment. So, how do things stand in Latin America? According to Barroso, not on target.

“The number of people receiving therapy is still below 60 percent, and there is a certain complacency because governments are relaxing as they see things improve. We need to be more aggressive in terms of prevention."