AIDS in Mexico: Not a Disease?

By Stout, Robert Joe | Conscience, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

AIDS in Mexico: Not a Disease?


Stout, Robert Joe, Conscience


"IN MEXICO, AIDS IS NOT A DISEASE." The smile creasing the young mother's face seems more of a grimace than a statement motivated by humor as she peers through the window that overlooks a narrow cobblestone street in the city of Oaxaca barrio of Xochimilco. Turning back towards me, she states unequivocally, "It is a sin."

Her name is Josefina. She would not allow me to use her last name because, she explained, in the small town in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico where they lived before coming to the city her neighbors had refused to allow their children to associate with her young son and daughter after Josefina had confirmed that she was HIV positive. Unlike many who postpone getting diagnosed and treated, she sought medical help as soon as she learned that she had contracted HIV.

"The only man I ever was with was my husband," she looks away again and shakes her head. "It is from him that I became infected." Like nearly a million other Oaxacans, she explains, her husband migrated to the United States to work, returning only for a few months each winter. "When I told him what had happened he called me a puta (prostitute) and hit me and left me. I have not seen him since."

Although Mexico's National Council for Prevention and Control of AIDS (CONASIDA) has officially identified HIV/AIDS as an epidemic, Mexico has one of the lowest HIV-prevalence rates in Latin America. However, the rate of heterosexual infection has increased substantially. Women are increasingly vulnerable, insists Dr. Jose Antonio Izazola, the director of Mexico's HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention program, because traditional gender differences still prevalent in Mexico hamper many women's ability to control personal risks with sexual partners. He insists that gender equality is a major component in controlling the spread of AIDS and that reform in this area is vital.

Although many states and Mexico's Federal District provide free or low-cost medical treatment for people living with HIV, it is widely considered a disease that affects only homosexuals, drug abusers and sex workers. Health workers and human rights organizations cite instances where employers have fired HIV-positive workers, where HIV-positive children or children of mothers being treated antiretrovirally are denied school attendance and where doctors and healthcare workers refuse to treat HIV-positive patients, even for non-HIV-involved emergencies.

Politically, historically and geographically Mexico is a divided country. The sprawling Federal District, which encompasses Mexico City and several of its larger suburbs and includes approximately one-fourth of the nation's population, is the center of "government, crime, corruption, culture and intellectuality," according to a local journalist, while the outlying regions are more conservative politically and socially as well as being less likely to challenge the church hierarchy. For the past r5 years Mexico City has been governed by a liberal majority while the rest of the nation has remained in the hands of conservative governors and supported the policies of conservative presidents.

"Make condoms available to teenagers?" the governor of Guadalajara, Emilio Gonzalez, scoffed in 2008, "why not have the state give them a six-pack and chit for a motel room as well?" Like current President Felipe Calderon a member of the conservative National Action Party, Gonzalez forced the state's health secretary who had established a HIV-prevention program to resign, although he conceded that Guadalajara would continue to distribute condoms to homosexuals since "they are the ones most at risk of contracting the disease."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

But many gay people, like many living with HIV, refuse to disclose their status to anybody connected to the government, thus inhibiting HIV-prevention programs and making it difficult to obtain accurate statistics. Both CONASIDA and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concede that the number of people living with HIV is probably much higher than the 174,000-200,000 figure indicated by official statistics. …

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