Migrant Workers Contributing To Spread Of HIV In Rural Mexican States

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HIV In Rural Mexican States

Some Mexican migrant workers who become HIV-positive in the U.S. arecontributing to the spread of the virus in rural Mexican states thatare "least prepared to handle the epidemic," researchers have saidrecently, the New York Times reports. According to the Times,the number of HIV/AIDS cases in Mexico is low compared with the U.S.,and the disease is focused among commercial sex workers and theirclients, drug users and men who have sex with men. However, high-riskbehavior among many Mexican migrants that has been recorded in varioussurveys "worries researchers," the Times reports.

Someresearch indicates that migrant workers have a higher number of sexualpartners compared with workers who stay at home, and migrationincreases the risk of rape and sexual abuse for many women. Inaddition, some migrants deal with being away from homes and families bycreating new relationships in the U.S., according to the Times.


Studieshave shown that the percentage of HIV-positive Mexicans who have livedin the U.S. has fluctuated between 41% and 79% between the 1980s andearly 1990s. However, since 1992, Mexico has not reported comprehensivefigures for HIV/AIDS cases, the Times reports. Accordingto a recent study, the greatest risk of HIV transmission among ruralMexican women is having sex with their migrant husbands -- a risk thatis compounded by their husbands' refusal to use condoms. Exacerbatingthe problem is that border towns between the U.S. and Mexico havebecome "magnets" for commercial sex workers and drug dealers, the Times reports.

"Migration leads to conditions and experiences that increase risks" of becoming HIV-positive, George Lemp, director of the University of California'sAIDS research program, said, adding, "Migrants are vulnerable. They areisolated. They are exposed to different sexual practices. They havelanguage barriers to services, and there is a lot of depression andloneliness and abuse." According to Lemp, the "concern" is that HIV"could take off in this population in the future."

Jennifer Hirsch, a professor of public health at Columbia University, in the American Journal of Public Healthin June wrote that many married men who are migrant workers have sexwith people more likely to be HIV-positive, have limited access tohealth care and frequently cope with the "social isolation of themigrant experience by seeking comfort in sexual intimacy." Hirsch foundthat unfaithful migrant husbands often are at the highest risk of HIVinfection because they are more likely to frequent sex workers while inthe U.S. and less likely to have long-term relationships with otherwomen.

The Mexican government has "slowly begun to acknowledgethe problem" by sending health care workers into rural areas andteaching migrants about the health risks they face, the Timesreports. Government health workers also are focusing their preventionefforts -- which include comic books and soap operas that teach aboutHIV/AIDS -- on returning migrants, as well as on those who intend totravel to the U.S. However, the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS inMexico means that many HIV-positive migrants "dismiss the notion thatextramarital affairs were a factor," according to the Times (Lacey, New York Times, 7/17).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view theentire Kaiser DailyHIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . TheKaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service ofThe Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.