Hope for Women Seen in Brazil’s HIV/AIDS Policies

Kati Marton is an accomplished journalist, and she serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors for the International Women's Health Coalition.

Brazil and the International Women's Health Coalition (IWHC) have a very long relationship, so I was eager to meet our colleagues in this enormous country which defies categories and has done so much to improve women's lives and to cut HIV/AIDS off at the pass. Arriving last Sunday to São Paulo, a city of 11 million people, I was struck by the stunning contrasts of the place: a blend of First World and Third World I have only experienced in India and South Africa.

Though far from perfect, Brazil's policies are a model in the HIV/AIDS field. Unlike South Africa, it has taken dramatic steps to make antiretrovirals universally available and mount a successful campaign to destigmatize the disease. We spent part of Monday at São Paulo's HIV center, and it is indeed an impressive place. People from all classes, genders, and ages line up in the open to be tested or to receive the treatment which is their right as Brazilian citizens, constitutionally enshrined. What a contrast to most other countries I have visited, where stigma is still a powerful deterrent.

In one important meeting, with GIFE, a consortium of Brazilian private institutes, foundations and companies that invest in social projects, IWHC Board member, Tom Merrick, and I presented reasons why it is in every country's self-interest to educate, inform, and empower its women. GIFE and Brazil could reap great benefits from focusing even more on its still largely marginalized rural women, including married women who are now vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. All of us then had an active discussion on private philanthropy, particularly through events and in the corporate sector-a relatively new phenomena here and throughout Latin America-but one that holds enormous potential for creating a strong, sustainable and united front in addressing health crises.

We headed north to Belo Horizonte, Montes Claros and[img_assist|nid=621|title=Kati Marton in Brazil|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=236|height=176] Janauba-a different world. In Janauba, a small, poor, isolated town, we spent the day with a terrific group of women, largely the descendants of African slaves, who had come to learn more about delivering babies when doctors are either unavailable or, in some cases, not wanted. A lively group of women from all ages (20s to 80s), buoyed by the sheer joy of being together, made clay models of the uterus and the birth canal and laughed their heads off at their own sometimes clumsy attempts. I loved every minute of our time in this remote, sweltering, small Brazilian town, a world away from the traffic and high rises of São Paulo. I hope these traditional birth attendants and the wonderful female doctors and nurses who are helping them, as well as Grupo Curumim, the non-governmental organization behind this effort which IWHC supports, got as much out of our visit as we did.

Seeing such innovation and commitment, I am inspired by what can be accomplished to make women's lives healthier and free from HIV/AIDS — in Janauba, in Montes Claros, in Belo Horizonte and in São Paulo.

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