August 5, 2008
Mexico City – The relationship between AIDS and migration has been a focus of this AIDS conference, particularly along the border of Mexico and the United States, and especially in Tijuana.
The largest city on the border, Tijuana is situated on a major migration and drug trafficking route. It has the highest number of drug users per capita in Mexico, and there is a large population of sex workers as well.
This afternoon, a presentation entitled, “No Man’s Land: Deportation and Migration as Risk Factors versus Protective Factors for HIV Infection Among Male and Female Injection Drug Users in Tijuana, Mexico” looked at the heightened risk factors among the mobile populations on the US-Mexico border. The researchers found, through working with drug users in Tijuana with varying backgrounds, that injection drug users who were deported to Tijuana from the United States are four times more likely to become infected with HIV than those in Tijuana who hadn’t been deported.
Causal connections are unclear, but this research suggests that deportation might be indicative of higher risk-taking. In an earlier news release, Remedios Lozada, one of the researchers, explained that "with disintegrating family support networks, sudden changes in a person's cultural environment, homelessness and poverty, we're more apt to see risk behaviors such as unprotected sex with sex workers, other men or sharing injection needles among male migrants. However, an alternate explanation could be that deportation from the United States leads to social upheaval, loss of social ties and income factors which lead to engaging in high-risk behaviors." The presentation recommended cross-border cooperation to address the vulnerable group of injecting drug users.
The study also found that almost half of men having sex with men in Tijuana and 75 percent of those in San Diego reported having partners across the border. In addition, of the 1,000 prostitutes who were interviewed in Tijuana, 69 percent had been in contact with people who crossed the border.
Amidst this combination of foreboding statistics, it was reassuring that Dr Jorge Saavedra, the head of the Mexico AIDS Program, was a speaker at today’s plenary session. Dr Saavedra has worked to put condoms and needle-exchange programs at the forefront of Mexico’s public health strategy.
This morning, in light of the statistic that over a quarter of HIV infections in the Latin American region are related to men who have sex with men, Dr. Saavedra commented on the specific need to involve gay and bisexual men in planning outreach strategies. Same sex relationships have been a social taboo here, which has inhibited discussion and efforts to promote safer sexual relations. A leader like Dr. Saavedra, who is openly gay and HIV-positive, is likely to push conversations and efforts forward, particularly after taking a prominent role here this week.