El Salvador: MSF enters HIV/AIDS fray with treatment and advocacy

In November 2001 the government passed the "Law on the Prevention and Control of Infection caused by HIV," which stipulates mandatory testing of employees and patients (at the doctor's request) as well as criminal charges for people who transmit the virus, including breastfeeding mothers with no access to replacement milk. From its vantage point of treating HIV-positive pregnant women, MSF sees this law as opening the door to discrimination against people living with the virus. With an alliance of local NGOs, MSF is calling for review and withdrawal of several articles in the new AIDS law, and is trying to raise awareness of the law among international organizations dealing with HIV/AIDS. MSF is also advocating for Salvadorans' access to antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. Cutting HIV transmission to babies MSF's direct work to prevent mother to child transmission of the disease is now in its second year. Over 80 mothers and 90 babies had been treated by May 2002 in two mother and child hospitals and 12 health posts in the capital San Salvador. Seven or eight babies and mothers are brought into the program each month. In addition to providing ARVs for mothers and babies, MSF provides replacement feeding for babies of mothers with HIV. The MSF team also carries out, with national counterparts, prenatal consultations, voluntary testing for HIV, pre- and post-test counseling, and nutritional education. In tandem, a condom marketing effort uses sexual health education and condom distribution in 150 bars throughout the country to try and prevent HIV transmission between sex workers and their clients. MSF also advocates for improved quality and access to medical assistance for sex workers. MSF worked in El Salvador from 1983 to 1992, during the civil war, and returned at the end of 1998, in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. International staff: 6 National staff: 25