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Hispanic AIDS-HIV Rates Troubling

By August Gribbin

March 19, 2002
Copyright © 2002
THE WASHINGTON TIMES. All Rights Reserved.

     Young Hispanic men in the border area of San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, have AIDS and HIV infection rates that are "an alarming" three to four times higher than the rates in other California cities, health officials report.

     George F. Lemp, director of the AIDS Research Program at the University of California, said yesterday that a partially completed study of men ages 18 to 29 years old in the two cities indicates the AIDS-HIV rate is 18.5 percent in Tijuana and 35 percent in San Diego. The rate in Los Angeles hovers around 16 percent, but in Long Beach, San Francisco and Riverside the rate is nearly 9 percent, earlier studies show.

     "These really high and alarming numbers give us pause as to the extent of the epidemic in that area and the potential for rapid spread of the infection among the urban and migrant-worker population," Mr. Lemp said in an interview.

     Earlier he told a San Francisco Chronicle reporter that, "While the AIDS epidemic exists so far only in pockets in Mexico, there's a danger that it will explode, so we need to look closely at the behaviors and the centers of infection in both border regions."

     Mr. Lemp and others say it is imperative that Mexican and U.S. health officials work together to deal with the epidemic. Recently they have been meeting to find ways to stem the spread of the disease.

     Although the numbers are high, they are not unexpected, considering the population studied, according to Dr. Michele Ginsberg. The chief of epidemiology at the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency co-authored the study with Dr. Juan Ruiz of the California Department of Health Services.

     Dr. Ginsberg said that researchers recruited survey participants at the bars and parks where homosexuals congregate.

     "In Mexico, we recruited in areas where there were a lot of young males trading sex for drugs or money. A good portion were homeless. In San Diego we went to night spots and places that males seeking partners frequent," Dr. Ginsburg said.

     The study was designed to examine 500 participants – 250 each in Tijuana and San Diego. The research in Tijuana has been completed, while in San Diego it is half finished. Still, said Mr. Lemp, the infection rate is not likely to change much when the final percentages are compiled in June.

     There have been widespread reports that the HIV-AIDS rate is climbing among young men – particularly among minority group members. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes, for instance, that "the growing Hispanic population ... is heavily affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic." It continues:

     "In 2000, Hispanics represented 13% of the U.S. population (including residents of Puerto Rico), but accounted for 19% of the total number of new U.S. AIDS cases reported that year .... The AIDS incidence rate per 100,000 population (the number of new cases of a disease that occur during a specific time period) among Hispanics in 2000 was 22.5, more than 3 times the rate for whites (6.6), but lower than the rate for African Americans (58.1)."

     The are many suspected reasons for the high infection rates. A statement from San Diego's Bi-National AIDS Advocacy Project blames "the Latino community's ignorance with regard to AIDS, condom use and personal responsibility." And Mr. Lemp said that many of the Hispanic AIDS victims are "migrants who are in the country alone without family support and with a lot of unmet psycho-social and economic needs. It leads them to take risks."

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