A BRAZILIAN prostitute from Viseu (central Portugal), who is thought to have had unprotected sex with more than a thousand clients, died of Aids recently.
This has spread panic among some men in the area as well as in the Algarve region – the national media reported that the woman was also working in the south.
The 33-year-old woman was apparently very popular due to the fact that she would practise sex without the use of a condom. Her colleagues believe that she is likely to have had unprotected sex with more than a thousand men while being infected with the deadly virus. Her penchant for unprotected sex has instilled fear among the underground world of prostitution in the Viseu region where she mainly worked. However, the panic may now spread further south, since new reports in the media last weekend claim that her activities were not only confined to Viseu – apparently she also worked in Armação de Pêra in the Algarve this summer.
The Brazilian woman, known as Verli Vitória, arrived in Portugal nine years ago and settled in Viseu, choosing a profession in which she could earn a lot of money in the shortest time possible. She died last month in São Teotónio Hospital.
Verli, who carried out her profession in private apartments and houses, had sexual relations with an estimated 1,300 men per year, earning 28,000 euros. One of her former colleagues commented: “She was one of the most sought after prostitutes in the area. Her clients almost always had sex with her without using any protection.”
In the first reports to appear in the press about her death, her associates were quoted as saying that she chose not to use condoms because they caused an allergic reaction and sores.
However, subsequent reports, quoting a close confidante of the late Brazilian, claim that the prostitute knew that she had been infected with HIV for five years and, frighteningly, had made it her mission to have unprotected sex with as many men as possible. This, according to the friend, was what Verli considered to be revenge against her womanising Portuguese ex-boyfriend, “the love of her life” whom had infected her.
Her other goal was to make as much money as possible to send to her family. It is reported that when she first began such was the queue of clients that she was making 400 euros a day. Her clients included successful businessmen, married men, pensioners and even teenage virgins, many of who could now have the HIV/Aids virus.
Number of victims unknown
No one knows how many clients were infected by having contact with Verli Vitória, or how many of those have transmitted the virus to their partner or to others they may have had sex with. Men who had sexual contact with Verli are naturally in a state of panic now that the news has broken. In addition, colleagues of the Brazilian are concerned that some of their clients may have had sex with her. They are, therefore, declaring that they will take further safety measures and will not, under any circumstances, have sex without using a condom.
Viseu’s health authorities are taking the matter very seriously and are trying to decide on the best way, “without causing alarm”, to help those who had sexual contact with the woman known as ‘Bela Italiana’. “This is a sensitive case which will need to be treated with great care. All those who slept with this woman will need to take an HIV/Aids test,” said José Carlos de Almeida, co-ordinator of the Sub-Região de Saúde de Viseu.
Such is the possible severity of the situation that authorities in Viseu have opened an inquiry to verify the circumstances surrounding Verli Vitória’s prostitution. The laws surrounding propagation of diseases and deliberate careless behaviour are extremely complex and, in some cases, doctors and colleagues of the Aids sufferer can also find themselves accountable. The law defines punishment of three to eight years in prison and different schools of thought exist with regard to who is accountable and the procedures to be followed by doctors and friends.
Former clients panic in Algarve
Meanwhile, panic also seems to be spreading to the Algarve where Verli was said to have worked this summer. Reportedly, a client who recently visited a prostitute promptly asked if he could pay for condom-free sex, but the prostitute refused and, in order to dissuade him, showed him a Sunday magazine with a picture of Verli Vitória on the cover with the headline “Angel of Death”. The man apparently panicked and left the apartment.
A friend of the unnamed man says that he slept with Verli in Viseu and, on hearing that she was in the Algarve, visited her for sex in Armação de Pêra. “It was here, in the Algarve, that we had unprotected sex on as many as 10 occasions,” he said. After hearing of her death, the client has apparently had an HIV/Aids test, which proved to be negative but, as the virus can take time to reveal itself, his future is still uncertain and he must take another test at a later date.
Sex without a condom
It has been reported that sex without protection is a normal situation among prostitutes in Portugal. The need for money, often to feed a drug habit, is the reason many prostitutes will accept this practice, which frequently costs the clients more money. Data available in Portugal indicates that at least 15 per cent of men who seek out the services of prostitutes do not use condoms and 33 per cent accept other sexual practises without any protection being used.
HIV cases on the increase
THE WAR against HIV/Aids was marked in the Algarve on December 1, World Aids Day, with the reinforcement of screening for the deadly virus. The number of new HIV cases continues to increase in the region through sexual transmission.
Official data shows that, during 2004, there was an increase of between 20 and 30 per cent against the previous year and, worryingly, the same trend is occurring this year.
Taking into account the total number of cases reported to date to the Centro de Vigilância Epidemiológica, the epidemics’ vigilance centre, Faro is third highest in the list of districts affected in Portugal. Data supplied by the Centro de Aconselhamento e Detecção Precoce da Infecção VIH/Sida (CAD), the centre for advice and early detection of HIV/Aids infection, shows that it has experienced an increase in demand for screening this year. The number of HIV/Aids tests, carried out on a yearly basis, has increased along with the proportion of positive results. In 2005, the number of positive cases is double that diagnosed in 2004.
Due to this, CAD is joining forces with the Associação para o Planeamento da Família (APF), the family planning association, and the Instituto da Droga e da Toxicodependência (IDT), the institute for drugs and drug addiction, to increase the availability of anonymous and free HIV/Aids tests in the Algarve region.
At the end of last month, a mobile unit was stationed at Faro’s Jardim Manuel Bivar. The team, which included staff from the regional health authority, distributed informative leaflets, offered HIV/Aids tests and visited bars in the area to talk to people about the initiative.
Simultaneously, another team was working in Portimão, in partnership with the IDT, took to the streets, for the first time ever, in a mobile unit, providing advice and carrying out tests during the afternoon.
On World Aids Day, leaflets, calendars, brochures and postcards were distributed at cinemas in Guia and Portimão, and were also available at supermarkets in Faro, Portimão, Olhão and Loulé.
The message is simple: behaviour must change and people need to be aware of the necessity to protect themselves and others. It is important to have an HIV/Aids test because:
•It is not something that only happens to others.
•You need to know if you are infected or not.
•If you are infected, you could be running the risk of infecting a loved one.
•Early detection increases the chance of survival and subsequent quality of life.
• Faro’s centre for advice and early detection of HIV/Aids infection (CAD) is located at the health centre facilities in Rua Brites de Almeida. Telephone is 289 812 528. Opening hours are from 9am to 12.30pm and 2pm to 5.30pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, and from 9am to 4pm on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Five million new Aids cases
FIVE MILLION people worldwide were infected with the Aids virus in 2005, the biggest increase recorded since the start of the epidemic, and southern Europe was one of the areas where the growth in new cases was most noticeable. The worrying data was revealed in the latest UNAIDS/WHO (UN and World Health Organisation against Aids) annual Aids Epidemic Update, which confirms 40.3 million people are currently infected by the disease worldwide.
Unprotected sexual encounters are responsible in the main for the dramatic statistics, which in southern Europe have already caused half a million to become infected with the deadly virus, with 20,000 new cases occurring in 2005 alone.
The list does not stop here. In 2005 alone, more than three million died of the disease, nearly half a million of whom were children. This is despite the reduction in deaths in Europe since the end of the 90s as access to treatment has increased in recent years, providing victims with a greater hope of surviving.
Sub-Saharan Africa continues to display the worst statistics, representing 64 per cent of all new cases of the infection (more than three million people), bringing the total number of people infected to 28.5 million.
Filomena Frazão de Aguiar, president of the Fundação Portuguesa A Comunidade Contra a SIDA, the Portuguese community foundation against Aids, comments: “We need structured campaigns; if on one hand much is developed to provide more treatment, giving patients a more satisfactory quality of life, the prevention side is neglected. The national campaigns are not working and no value is being given to them. Governments need to do a lot more in this field.”
The situation in Portugal
Portugal is one of the countries where the number of people infected with HIV/Aids is increasing. From 1983 up to July 30 2005, there have been around 27,000 infected with the HIV/Aids virus. Despite a large percentage of those being drug addicts (48.4 per cent), the UNAIDS/WHO report shows a notable decrease in the number of new cases among intravenous drug users (1,000 in 2004 against 2,400 in the year 2000). However, the spread of the disease among heterosexuals is increasing – 32.5 per cent.