HIV/AIDS Awareness Still Faces Obstacles in Border Region

Editor’s Note:  Often overshawdowed by other issues, HIV/AIDS continues claiming victims along the U.S-Mexico border and worldwide. In today’s story, New Mexico State University’s  Laura Iesue,  graduate student of sociology, outlines some of the outstanding issues in addressing a vital health issue of our times.

NMSU Student Series

Though HIV/AIDS awareness has made significant gains and improved health outcomes for infected individuals across the globe, resolving the crisis still encounters major obstacles in the U.S.-Mexico border region.

Recently, FNS interviewed  the spokesperson for an important health care provider in the Paso del Norte area of the U.S.-Mexico border to get a perspective on the continued and changing challenges confronting health  professionals in addressing the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis.

“We have state certified HIV testers trained to handle highly emotional situations with continuing education hours extending well above the minimum needed for qualification,” assured Estela Reyes Lopez, media relations officer for Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe, Inc., a longtime institution in El Paso, Texas.

Headquartered only blocks from the border, the health delivery organization, popularly known as La Fe, operates the CARE Center. According to Reyes Lopez, CARE has received many awards since its establishment in the 1960’s, and has played an integral part in educational awareness and outreach to  individuals at risk for HIV/AIDS infections in the El Paso area.

A non-profit organization, La Fe is among several public health programs in  the border region, some of which exchange information with Mexico.  Although many of these programs are located within major metropolitan areas like El Paso, their expertise is still available to rural communities and migrant individuals.

Currently, HIV transmission categories remain highest among homosexual men, followed by IV drug abusers,  Reyes Lopez said.  “However, we are also starting to see a rapid incline in women between the ages of 14 and 35 who arrive for testing and test positive as late-stage HIV infected individuals,” she added.

A late stage is an individual  who has had the disease for prolonged period of time, and is close to if not already exhibiting AIDS symptoms. CARE is also beginning to see an increase in infected individuals who are 55 years of age and older, Reyes Lopez said.

According to La Fe’s communications specialist, theories behind the rapid increase of cases involving older individuals are based  on the idea that the individual is no longer in their “child bearing” years, or at the menopausal stage of  life, and may not protect themselves as much as they had in the past.

The continued stigma of HIV being primarily a “gay” or “prostitution” problem, hinders greater support and funding for assisting the rapidly increasing HIV positive groups, Reyes Lopez contended.

Additionally, a lack of support for general sex education programs creates a barrier in reaching out to at-risk individuals. Other evidence points to persistent racism and homophobia as factors in limiting the willingness to discuss HIV/AIDS issues involving both migrants and U.S. citizens.

The Centers for Disease Control counts African Americans as having the highest infection rates, with Hispanics being the second fastest group with an estimated 21 percent of new infections.

Reyes Lopez insisted that communication and outreach remain vital in tackling the HIV/AIDS crisis in the borderland:

“We need to get individuals to realize the importance of getting tested early and not delaying their start of antivirals. We need to eliminate the stigma that HIV is a gay disease or a disease that infects prostitutes. We also need to acknowledge the benefits of sex education for younger individuals over the more abstinence-only programs as a form of education to spread the word on the potential dangers and trends of HIV/AIDS transmission.”

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-Laura Iesue


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