Health Ministry officials reported this week that the number of cases of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) increased last year in Costa Rica.
The ministry recorded 979 cases of HIV-positive patients in 2016, representing 105 more than in 2015.
Health officials also confirmed that 79 patients with AIDS received treatment in 2015, and the figure rose to 84 last year.
The ministry’s Director of Health Surveillance, Daniel Salas, said at a press conference on Tuesday that authorities are working on various strategies to address the problem, including a program providing rapid HIV screening at public hospitals within the Social Security System. The new program is being implemented now.
“This rapid screening test allows for a more timely diagnosis, and this helps with faster identification of other subjects or groups at risk,” he said.
Salas also noted that screening tests for HIV-positive mothers have been very effective in recent years.
Local efforts allowed the country to be certified as free from vertical transmission of HIV — transmission from mother to fetus — by the World Health Organization and Pan American Health Organization, earlier this year.
Health Ministry Director of Strategic Planning Alejandra Acuña said that the National Survey of Sexual and Reproductive Health in Costa Rica, published in December, found that the majority of the population knows about prevention measures. However, most do not practice them.
She said that the spike in HIV/AIDS figures is a direct result of the increase in recent years of screenings, analysis and diagnosis across the country.
“It is also very likely that prevention measures, such as using condoms, are not reaching the population that needs them most,” she said.
The population most likely to contract HIV comprises people between the ages of 25 and 39. For AIDS, the risk increases among the population between 30 and 44.
Acuña stressed that prevention efforts should be improved, especially among young people, because studies revealed that sex education programs are not starting at an early age.
Health Ministry data indicate that Costa Rica registered 9,179 HIV-positive diagnoses between 2002 and 2016. Of these, 87.2 percent were men, “confirming that the disease is still concentrated in the male population,” Acuña said.
The majority of cases are from residents of the Greater Metropolitan Area, a region comprising communities from the provinces of Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago, and the capital, San José.