Elaine González de Araújo is the founder of Pedaler o Gráfico (Pedal o Gráfico), a nonprofit company that works to improve the health and well-being of people with HIV/AIDS and their families. She is also the coordinator of University of Brasilia’s social practice at Villa Grimaldi, where she supports women and vulnerable groups in the city of Belo Horizonte. As part of her job, she leads a parallel program of training urban mechanics to repair and install cycling infrastructure throughout Brazil. She reports from Belo Horizonte.
How is public transportation in your region doing?
I think in most of Brazil we have to figure out how to move from place to place without cars, buses or trains, because in many cases it’s the only mode of public transportation. For example, we have 21.5 million people in Belo Horizonte with around half of them living on a certain corner of their city. If you take the bus one day, it’s all over town, all day long. You have a very limited connection to your city.
At the moment, we don’t have a lot of bike lanes, but we have a lot of infrastructure for bicycles. In my municipality, we have a network of 280 kilometers of bridges and tunnels for cyclists. In Belo Horizonte, we have 13 projects for the repair of more than 100 kilometers of bikeways.
Brazil is facing what you call the yellow ribbon problem. What is it?
There is a very strong yellow ribbon movement that has been growing since the beginning of this administration [of President Dilma Rousseff, who is the target of several investigations into alleged illegal campaign financing]. It began with just a group of middle class people and even the poor in the suburbs who wanted to break away from the white ribbon resistance.
They created an international yellow ribbon campaign and it became very viral. With their yellow ribbon, they wanted to call attention to this very clear message that the government does not always represent them.
The yellow ribbon movement in Brazil is mixed with another movement known as “plataforma concisa.” It takes its name from a combination of the Brazilian word for thief and their thoughts for how to drive their drivers who are afraid of stopping suddenly at the intersection.
What is the situation like in Brazil with regard to HIV/AIDS?
Between 1997 and 2007, the infection rate of people with HIV increased from 10% to 60%. Because the infection rate in our society is so low, it’s fair to say that it’s public health issue.
In 2016, Brazil is estimated to be home to 1.3 million people with HIV/AIDS and it’s not a burden that’s going to leave us any time soon.
We have a lot of risks on top of that. Almost 90% of people who have HIV contracted it in their lifetime or in the years of before they got sick. The time when people infected with HIV have the possibility to feel normal is between their 20s and 30s. They are healthy. They are not contaminated with the virus in the blood. Then during their adult life, they often pass the virus on to their kids, their future children and their grandchildren. The total death rate is 20 to 25%.
Finally, most of the population don’t take antiretroviral therapy because the medicines are expensive. So the patients with HIV are not being managed correctly. So we need to make the treatment affordable and comprehensive.
Any other issues you’d like to discuss?
We have a tendency in this country to put a lot of issues together. There is a civil rights movement in Brazil called the Renovation of the Constitution, which has to do with improving the law and governance. But in certain cases, this discussion gets confused or discussed in a way that accentuates some problems or protects them from the others.
With HIV/AIDS, it’s also a question of law enforcement and the possibility to think about policies. There are plans to reduce the number of patients being rejected because of criminal records. It’s the law of conscience, which says that one cannot reject a person because of his HIV status.
There’s also a change in institutional policy, focusing on linking people with AIDS, especially those people who live in poverty, with social support services.