Houston Chronicle Examines HIV/AIDS-Related Discrimination, Stigma in Mexico
HIV/AIDS advocates at the XVII International AIDS Conference plan to "seize the opportunity" to confront discrimination and stigma associated with HIV/AIDS in Mexico, the Houston Chronicle reports. This is the first year the conference is being held in a Latin American country. According to Mexican government figures, about 200,000 Mexicans are HIV-positive and 57% are men who have sex with men. The country's recorded prevalence is three cases per 1,000 people, but experts say it actually could be double because most people do not get tested until they show symptoms of HIV/AIDS.
The Chronicle reports that "deep-rooted" homophobia has deterred thousands of HIV-positive people, mostly MSM, from seeking treatment or getting tested. Many experts liken the discrimination toward people living with HIV/AIDS in Mexico to that of the U.S. in the 1980s, "when the predominance of the disease within the gay community led to a homophobic backlash," according to the Chronicle. Tamil Kendall, an independent AIDS consultant in Mexico, said, "In Mexico, not all men who have sex with men consider themselves gay, so they aren't being reached by gay outreach organizations," adding, "There is a whole cultural identity and stigma around the disease."
People living with HIV/AIDS in Mexico also experience discrimination, according to the Chronicle. A survey conducted last year by the country's National Commission for Preventing Discrimination found that only 40% of Mexicans would be willing to live with someone who is HIV-positive and that 20% would offer an HIV-positive person a job. In addition, many HIV/AIDS patients complain of discrimination by nurses and physicians, including the refusal to perform lifesaving operations. A recent study by Mexico's National Institute of Public Health found that many physicians would not operate on fellow physicians who had treated HIV/AIDS patients.
According to the Chronicle, HIV-positive Mexicans also lack access to antiretroviral drugs. Although the government in 2003 created a nationwide network of HIV clinics for low-income residents and announced universal access to the drugs, shortages and delays in the distribution of the medications persist.
Anuar Luna, an HIV/AIDS advocate who is HIV-positive, said, "For the government and the decision makers, we're the scum of society," adding, "So to spend money on us brings them little political benefit." Luna said Mexican President Felipe Calderon should declare a national health emergency to ensure funding for prevention and treatment programs. "That would mean that accepting it's a generalized problem and that if you let it grow, there will be a huge cost for the country," Luna said (Lloyd, Houston Chronicle, 8/2).
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