Brazil: Life is stronger than AIDS

Cazu Barroz is a Brazilian actor and writer who has been living with HIV for more than 17 years. He works with the Brazilian Ministry of Health in their ”˜Positive Prevention Campaign', which aims to empower people living with HIV and AIDS to achieve their dreams. Cazu spoke to Oxfam about his experience living with the disease and his role as an HIV and AIDS activist.

He works with the Brazilian Ministry of Health in their ”˜Positive Prevention Campaign', which aims to empower people living with HIV and AIDS to achieve their dreams. Cazu spoke to Oxfam about his experience living with the disease and his role as an HIV and AIDS activist.

How did you contract HIV?
I got infected when I was 17 years old, when I failed to use a condom during a heterosexual relationship.

How did this change your life?
I had to abandon both my studies and my career as a business administrator and start a battle against prejudice. Both at college and at work my colleagues and superiors no longer accepted me. I changed my profession and started acting. I use my new profession to combat AIDS by performing in plays that inform people about HIV prevention and plays that combat prejudice.

How are you involved in HIV and AIDS programs?
I have been involved in the fight against AIDS for 17 years. As a member of the State AIDS Commission, I get in touch with the Minister, the Governor, and the Mayor when there are problems like shortages of medicines, examinations, hospital beds, and I demand that they take action to address the problem. This is for everybody living with AIDS.

Why are you involved in AIDS activism?
Soon after I got infected, I suffered all possible sorts of prejudice just for being an HIV carrier. Even though I didn't have a lot of information about AIDS in 1990, I felt that what people were doing to me was both unfair and unnecessary. I was rejected by society and discovered a group that helps people living with AIDS called Grupo Pela Vidda (Group for Life) in Rio de Janeiro. Here I found people who would listen to me and not condemn me to death or consider me a threat to the life of others. I joined this group and am still fighting to the present day, not only for myself like I was at the beginning, but for everybody living with AIDS in Brazil.

Are you aware of a life-changing story as a result of your activism or actions?
The most significant story is one that I recently received in an email from somebody whose mother was going to have an abortion when she found out that she was HIV-positive. When she saw my poster, which can be seen in almost all hospitals and health stations in the country, and read the message "Life is stronger than AIDS,” she changed her mind about the abortion. This was my gold medal.

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Around half a million people are living with HIV in Brazil, and one third of HIV cases in the whole of Latin America are in Brazil.

It was the first developing country to provide free Anti-retroviral medicines (ARVs) to the public. These are the medicines that can prolong and improve life for those living with HIV and AIDS. 

As a result, around 161,000 people are receiving this treatment free of charge from the public health service. But the Brazilian government is facing major challenges in getting treatment for all people.

Its main challenge is to keep offering free ARVs, due to the high prices charged by international pharmaceutical companies. As the number of people with HIV rises, more people are requiring free ARVs. Also, many people are building resistance to the medicines that are available in Brazil. They need new and more expensive types of drug.

Early this year (2007), Brazil's President Lula negotiated with a giant pharmaceutical company to be able to deliver affordable versions of branded ARV medicines to Brazil's people. This long negotiation was a step forward for Brazil and a warning sign for pharmaceutical companies that governments have the right to deliver cheaper medicines in order to combat diseases such as the HIV and AIDS.

The Brazilian government also has the hard task of raising awareness to prevent the spread of HIV and fight discrimination.

Cazu's leadership is changing lives. But there is still much to be done. The Brazilian government must keep fighting for HIV prevention and better treatment for all people, and the international community must support these moves to ensure health care for all.