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The devastation the HIV virus is causing in Latin America and the Caribbean grabs a fraction of the attention paid to HIV/AIDS epidemics in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

But by 2015 the region is expected to have nearly 3.5 million people living with HIV. Shared factors such as poverty, migration and homophobia are threatening to send these numbers spiralling upwards.

In this special set of articles in Science, Jon Cohen describes the commonalities and key differences in what is driving the epidemic in Latin American and the Caribbean, and how countries there are fighting back.

In Mexico and Central America, homosexual men are driving the epidemic, whereas in Puerto Rico, injecting drug users are spreading the virus. In Argentina, the main mode of transmission is now heterosexual sex.

Brazilian researcher Luiz Loures thinks governments find it easier to focus on treatment — the straightforward process of obtaining drugs — than on prevention, which would involve engaging groups such as homosexual men and drug users.

But he says such short-term thinking has a price: growing drug resistance, which ultimately renders existing drug combinations useless and forcing people to move on to more expensive ones. The rising cost of HIV drugs is making it difficult for Brazil to maintain its policy of providing them for free to all who need them.

More attention on HIV/AIDS in this part of the world could have a major impact on the region's future, says Cohen.

Links to full articles in Science

Overview: The overlooked epidemic

The Caribbean
Haiti: Making headway under hellacious circumstances
Dominican Republic: A sour taste on the sugar plantations
Dominican Republic: The sun. The sand. The sex.
Puerto Rico: Rich port, poor port
Puerto Rico: Ample monkeys and money nurture robust research

Mexico & Central America
Mexico: Land of extremes — prevention and care range from bold to bleak
Mexico: Prevention programs target migrants
Guatemala: Struggling to deliver on promises and assess HIV's spread
Honduras: Why so high? A knotty story
Honduras: Mission possible: integrating the church with HIV/AIDS efforts
Belize: Taking it to the streets

South America
Brazil: Ten years after
Brazil: Free drugs ≠ quality care
Argentina: Up in smoke: epidemic changes course
Peru: A new nexus for HIV/AIDS research
Peru: Universal access: more goal than reality

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