Academic journal article Health and Social Work

Exploring AIDS-Related Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behaviors of Female Mexican Migrant Workers

Academic journal article Health and Social Work

Exploring AIDS-Related Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behaviors of Female Mexican Migrant Workers

Article excerpt

During the past 10 years, women have become the fastest growing group likely to contract AIDS, and women of color are the majority of these cases (Nyamathi, Bennett, Leake, Lewis, & Flaskerud, 1993). Although Latinos constitute only 8 percent of the U.S. population, Latino women, or Latinas, represent 21 percent of all adult female AIDS cases (Amaro, 1988). A review of the literature shows that the risk of contracting AIDS is between eight and 11 times greater in Latinas compared with non-Latino white women, primarily as a result of unprotected sex with high-risk partners (Marin & Marin, 1992; Singer et al., 1990; Yep, 1995). Compared with white women, Latinas also differ in having higher fertility rates and lower contraceptive use (Amaro, 1988), lower condom use (Marin, Tschann, Gomez, & Kegeles, 1993), and greater reluctance to suggest condom use to their male partners (Marin & Marin, 1992). Hence, both risk of contracting AIDS and barriers to prevention are formidable where Latinas are concerned.

There are approximately 4.1 million migrant workers in the United States, predominantly of Mexican background (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1990). Although Mexican migrants have historicallybeen almost exclusively male, the number of females participating in migratory labor has increased. During the past two decades, 50 percent of all Mexican immigrants have been women (Vernez & Ronfeldt, 1991). Thus, Mexican women are a significant portion of the Mexican immigrant population and migratory labor population.

Although AIDS-related data are slowly beginning to emerge on U.S. Latinas, almost nothing is known about marginalized subgroups such as Mexican migrant laborers, who are part of a unique population at increasing risk of contracting AIDS. In a recent review of the literature, Organista and Balls Organista (1997) reported that HIV screening at labor camps in South Carolina and Florida revealed infection rates ranging from 3.5 percent to 13 percent in migrant farm workers. With regard to Western stream migrants, less information is known. One study by Lopez and Ruiz (1995) found a 9 percent lifetime history of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and two active cases of syphilis in their sample of Mexican farm workers (N = 176). In addition, 9.1 percent of women reported sex with someone who injected drugs during the past year. These investigators concluded that although no cases of HIV were identified, high rates of unsafe sex practices reported by respondents warranted prevention efforts with this population.

Many migration-related factors frame a significant risk of health problems, including exposure to HIV. These factors include limited education; cultural, linguistic, and geographical barriers to health care; and the poverty-related low wages, hazardous working conditions, chronic underemployment, constant mobility, and substandard housing (National Commission to Prevent Infant Mortality, 1993). At this time, much research is needed to begin to gather data on AIDS-related knowledge, beliefs, and behaviors in migrant laborers to inform prevention policies and programs. Such information should consider both gender-related and cultural factors.

Although AIDS-related information on Mexican migrants is scarce, the few studies that do exist indicate problematic knowledge and very low condom use (Bletzer, 1990; Bronfman & Minella, 1992; Organista, Balls Organista, Garcia de Alba, Castillo-Moran, & Carrillo, 1996). There are indications that female Mexican migrants are far less knowledgeable than their male counterparts. For example, Schoonover Smith (1988) compared knowledge of STDs in black (n = 60) and Mexican (n = 60) farm workers and found that Mexican workers knew less about transmission, treatment, and prevention, and that Mexican women were the least knowledgeable on all subjects.

Table 1. Demographic Information on Female Mexican Migrant Workers
(N = 32)

Characteristic                                  %       M       SD

Age                                                   34. … 
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