Chile's U. conducts first HIV prevention operation in Easter Island

Chile's U. conducts first HIV prevention operation in Easter Island

The Chair Project travels to study the impact of the virus in Rapa Nui through days of education, prevention and diagnosis, where they will introduce the rapid test.

Today, a day after the commemoration of International AIDS Day, a team from the Chair Project of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Chile undertook an unprecedented mission in Rapa Nui. For the first time, they will try to study in depth the presence of the HIV virus and AIDS on the island to develop a specific local prevention strategy, which, according to these experts, does not yet exist.

The operation, which will run until Friday, December 6, will focus on prevention, education and diagnosis on the island of seven thousand inhabitants.

"There is very little information about HIV on Easter Island, patients have little access to diagnosis, they have to come and treat Santiago, and that makes the difficulty and barrier of access to treatment super high," explains the infectologist Claudia Cortés, an academic at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Chile and a member of the Chair Project.

Specialists who will travel to Rapa Nui are mostly graduate students from the U. of Chile, including clinicians, researchers and virologists. This team has coordinated with Hanga Roa Hospital, The Minsal and the local community to carry out their activities this week.

The mission agenda will dedicate at least two days - Tuesdays and Wednesdays - to preventive education. More than a dozen talks will be held to students between the fourth basic and middle quarter, as well as prevention days for citizens and training for hospital officials.

"At the end of 2018 we started with the enabling of educational stands on STI prevention issues," says Juan Pakomio, director of Hanga Roa hospital. "However, we are still indebted to users in a timely, extra-tropical analysis. There is a need to incorporate parents and guardians, teachers and other agents into the learning process."

Between Wednesday 4 and Thursday 5, meanwhile, rapid testing will begin at various points on the island, an alternative that was not available. Currently, Rapa Nui only sees was being tested for HIV through the Elisa Test - the result of which takes weeks - and the diagnosis rate is low. The exams will be carried out in the street and also in some of the main public distributions: municipality, Conaf, Internal Revenue Service and Civil Registry.

The female condom will also be introduced to the island and high-risk groups will be instructed for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a medicine used to prevent HIV infection.

Fernando Valiente, another of the team members, comments that the idiosyncrasies of the islanders involves several difficulties. "One of the challenges is to intervene a different and new culture for us. The modes and forms as they understand prevention are a great challenge, here it is very much oriented to the use of condoms, testing. And coming up with protective measures that may not have incorporated is a major challenge."

The Minsal delegation

Between 2010 and 2018, Chile experienced the largest percentage increase in HIV contagion (34%), according to UN figures. About 71,000 people live with the virus in the country, while another 30 thousand or 40 thousand would have it, but they would not yet be aware. Hence, the timely diagnosis and containment of new cases is key for health authorities.

For Claudia Cortés, for the Chair Project delegation to spend the week after International AIDS Day in one of the most remote places in the country is a relevant sign. "To do it on Easter Island is to say 'ok, you compatriots, are as Chilean as any Chilean, and we're going to do it here,' and maybe next year we're going to do it in Chiloé or Puerto Williams, because this is a reality that affects the whole country," he says.

The visit of the team of the U. of Chile is supported by The Minsal, which will also take a team to the island. They will headline the First HIV/ITS Update Day for the population of Rapa Nui and will also organize talks with a focus on interculturality, gender and human rights.

Today, in addition, the ministry will launch the HIV campaign.