In 2018, there were around 900 000 people living with HIV in Brazil, with 66% having access to treatment.

An estimated 53 000 people became newly infected with HIV in 2018, an increase of 21% compared to 2010.   

Key populations are disproportionately affected by HIV in Brazil. Transgender people are estimated to have an HIV prevalence rate of 30%, gay men and other men who have sex with men 18.3%; people who inject drugs 5.9% and prisoners 4.5%.

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Putting HIV prevention back at the centre of Brazil’s LGBTI pride

In June 2019, more than 3 million people took to the streets of São Paulo, Brazil, to celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) pride and to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a turning point in the struggle for LGBTI rights. For gay entrepreneur Almir Nascimento, 2019 marked a return to involvement in the event’s organization after a 20-year break.

What prompted Mr Nascimiento’s pride comeback was a rising unease about the increasing number of new HIV infections in Brazil among young people, especially among young gay men and transgender women. For many years, he thought that the mobilization of the 1990s and the arrival of antiretroviral therapy would be enough to end the HIV epidemic.

“The epidemic was at its height when I first joined pride as one of the organizers in 1999 and 2000. Back then, it seemed to me that we had made significant achievements, and I thought it would be enough to stop HIV”, recalls Mr Nascimento. “But four to five years ago, I began to notice that a lot of young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were getting infected with HIV again, and even worse they were dying of AIDS-related illnesses at a really young age. This situation motivated me to come back and support the parade organizers in promoting an open discussion about HIV and AIDS inside our community.”

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Two decades of engagement in the response to HIV in Brazil

Seven years after finding out that he was living with HIV, Jair Brandão was waiting for a medical appointment in a clinic in Recife, north-east Brazil, when a fellow patient informed him he could access psychosocial support at a nearby nongovernmental organization. Although it had taken him many years to accept his HIV status, he needed just three sessions of counselling to realize that he was meant to become an HIV activist.

“I was thrilled and scared at the same time, because I didn’t understand much about political spaces, nor about AIDS and health policies. I didn't know how to engage in political discussion,” recalls Mr Brandão, who two decades later is one of Brazil’s most influential HIV activists. “First, I had to accept myself as a person living with HIV, and this was one of the challenges. And then learn about the virus, take care of myself. Only after that did I start to learn about social and political issues.”

Mr Brandão says he believes that being an activist is natural for him. “Some people are born for that,” he says. “Being an activist is about being restless and not accepting injustices and violations of rights. I think I was born with this gift because I always led processes, even without knowing it was activism, and I was always concerned about helping and empowering others.”

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Empowering young Brazilians to talk to their peers about HIV

New HIV infections in Brazil increased by more than 20% between 2010 and 2018, so it’s crucial that young Brazilians start talking about HIV and learn how to protect themselves. That’s the aim of a project led by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Swiping through one of his social media accounts, Jonas da Silva checks out the latest parties and public events in Salvador. He is also chatting online with other young people. They talk about sex, how and if they use condoms with their partners, what they know about HIV prevention and if they have been tested for HIV. 

“What’s cool about the project is that we have young people talking to young people. We use our language and slang to address HIV,” he says. “This connection is vital. We can see they trust us, and this is when we know we have touched them with the information they need.”

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