International News

Migrant Workers Contributing to Spread of HIV in Rural Mexican States, Researchers Say

July 17, 2007

Some Mexican migrant workers who become HIV-positive in the U.S. are contributing to the spread of the virus in rural Mexican states that are "least prepared to handle the epidemic," researchers have said recently, 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 their clients, drug users and men who have sex with men. However, high-risk behavior among many Mexican migrants that has been recorded in various surveys "worries researchers," the Times reports.

Some research indicates that migrant workers have a higher number of sexual partners compared with workers who stay at home, and migration increases the risk of rape and sexual abuse for many women. In addition, some migrants deal with being away from homes and families by creating new relationships in the U.S., according to the Times.

Studies have shown that the percentage of HIV-positive Mexicans who have lived in the U.S. has fluctuated between 41% and 79% between the 1980s and early 1990s. However, since 1992, Mexico has not reported comprehensive figures for HIV/AIDS cases, the Times reports. According to a recent study, the greatest risk of HIV transmission among rural Mexican women is having sex with their migrant husbands -- a risk that is compounded by their husbands' refusal to use condoms. Exacerbating the problem is that border towns between the U.S. and Mexico have become "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's AIDS research program, said, adding, "Migrants are vulnerable. They are isolated. They are exposed to different sexual practices. They have language barriers to services, and there is a lot of depression and loneliness 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 Health in June wrote that many married men who are migrant workers have sex with people more likely to be HIV-positive, have limited access to health care and frequently cope with the "social isolation of the migrant experience by seeking comfort in sexual intimacy." Hirsch found that unfaithful migrant husbands often are at the highest risk of HIV infection because they are more likely to frequent sex workers while in the U.S. and less likely to have long-term relationships with other women.

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

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Reprinted with permission from You can view the entire Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report is published for, a free service of the Kaiser Family Foundation, by The Advisory Board Company. © 2007 by The Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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