California, Mexico Health Officials Report ‘Alarming’ Rates of HIV/AIDS in Gay, Bisexual Latino Men in Border Region
HIV infection has increased at an "alarming" rate among gay and bisexual Latino men who migrate between California and Mexico, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Statistics gathered by the Bi-National AIDS Advocacy Project show that rates of HIV infection among Latino men in Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, Calif., are up to four times as high as infection rates in other California cities. More than 35% of young gay and bisexual Latino men in San Diego are HIV-positive, and nearly 19% of young gay and bisexual men in Tijuana are infected with HIV, compared to HIV infection rates of 8% to 9% among comparable populations in other California cities. Researchers found several possible reasons for the high rates of HIV infection among gay and bisexual Latino men who live along the California-Mexico border. In Tijuana, for example, only 56% of the men surveyed had received any information on HIV prevention, compared to 77% of San Diego participants. Only 46% of Tijuana men had been tested for HIV, compared to 63% in San Diego. In addition, Tijuana men were more likely to report that they had engaged in "risky" sexual behavior with women and were more likely to have had unprotected sex while under the influence of drugs, while San Diego men were more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior with other men. Men in Tijuana and San Diego said that their sexual encounters often took place on opposite sides of the border. George Lemp, director of the University of California's AIDS Research Program, said that men who frequently migrate across the border, such as farm workers, might "turn to risky sex" with other men or female sex workers "just because they have no one else to turn to." Researchers from the University of California will conduct a five-year study on the prevalence of risky sexual behaviors, HIV infection rates and the availability of prevention and treatment services in four border regions in Mexico and California (Perlman, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/17).
HIV Tests for Prostitutes Unlikely to Stop HIV
Officials in Sonora, Mexico, a state located near the Mexico-Arizona border, require sex workers to undergo HIV testing every three months, but some health officials feel that prostitutes are "not the population that one needs to focus on," the Arizona Daily Star reports. Health officials and police officers in Sonora regularly inspect sex workers' health cards and check whether the workers have undergone the mandated health tests. However, Rebeca Ramos, technical director of the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Association in El Paso, Texas, said that such checks will not do much to halt the spread of HIV because the virus is not as prevalent among sex workers as it is among injection drug users and men who have sex with men. She added that prostitutes have "remained an unimportant group of carriers." In addition, many prostitutes work in "less formal settings" and can evade detection by regulators. The three-month gap between checkups also leaves a sizeable amount of time through which a prostitute could transmit HIV, the Daily Star reports (Steller, Arizona Daily Star, 3/17).