(October 2002) At the end of 2001, approximately 1.9 million adults and children in Latin America and the Caribbean were living with HIV/AIDS. Approximately 200,000 new HIV infections occurred in the region during 2001.

In most of Latin America, HIV/AIDS has hit the marginal populations hardest: men who have sex with men, commercial sex workers, and injecting drug users (IDUs), but heterosexual transmission is increasingly important, according to UNAIDS. In Argentina and Uruguay, HIV infections are concentrated among IDUs. In Peru and Mexico, transmission rates are highest among men who have sex with men. In Brazil, the region’s most populous country, HIV infections are highest among men who have sex with men and among IDUs. Infection rates have dropped since the late 1990s, presumably in response to prevention programs that targeted people at high risk of exposure.

In the Caribbean, heterosexual contact has been the primary path for HIV transmission, aided by cultural norms that tolerate unprotected sex and frequent partner exchange among young people. HIV prevalence rates in the Caribbean are the second-highest in the world, surpassed only by rates in sub-Saharan Africa. The severity of the epidemic in the Caribbean is often overlooked because the region’s population is relatively small, but HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death in some parts of the region. About 2.3 percent of adults in the region are infected. Haiti has the highest prevalence, with about 6 percent of adults infected, and is followed by Bermuda, where nearly 4 percent are infected. Migration and frequent travel among Caribbean islands and the United States also spread HIV.

Peter Lamptey is president of the Family Health International (FHI) Institute for HIV/AIDS.

Merywen Wigley is an associate technical officer at the FHI Institute for HIV/AIDS.

Dara Carr is a technical director for health communication at PRB.

Yvette Collymore is senior editor at PRB.

Excerpted from PRB’s Population Bulletin “Facing the HIV/AIDS Pandemic” (PDF: 786KB).