PORTUGAL IS one of EU’s most susceptible countries to HIV infections. The worrying news was revealed by Peter Piot, Director of the United Nations Agency to Fight Aids, who was in Lisbon recently.
“Portugal is very vulnerable to new cases and the authorities should do more to slow the expansion of the disease,” he told epidemiologists, doctors and virologists at the Gulbenkian Foundation. The necessity for a leadership that can mobilise its political, health and social institutions to fight the infection was one of Piot’s most powerful themes during the conference on the spread of HIV.
Current estimates suggest there are 27,000 people registered with the disease, although the actual figure could be much higher. Many of those who contracted the virus that can lead to Aids are intravenous drug users who picked it up through sharing infected needles. According to Dr. Teresa Branco at Hospital do Desterro in Lisbon, another factor is that HIV-positive people on anti-viral medication are not taking precautions and are getting cross-infected with drug resistant strains.
Peter Piot said HIV had to be seen as a global problem in the same way as climate change, poverty and terrorism. “HIV has a long term impact on the economy and social development, more than any other disease,” he warned. He also said that women were more likely to get infected today, contradicting the traditional idea that the risk groups were homosexual men and intravenous drug users.
President of the Republic Jorge Sampaio, who opened the conference, said HIV/Aids should have a permanent place on the political agenda as a “terrible epidemic” that could not be ignored.