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California: Study Tracks HIV in Migrant Workers

April 28, 2003

A widespread study focusing on Mexican migrants who work as day laborers in San Diego and tend fields near Fresno will investigate what is feared to be a rising rate of HIV infection among one of California's poorest and most isolated communities. A lack of HIV prevention and treatment for this mobile, mainly male population and their families in Mexico has both US and Mexican public health officials worried that an epidemic could be on the horizon.

Officials with the California-Mexico Health Initiative and the University of California AIDS Research Program will launch a cross-border study to assess how widespread diseases such as HIV/AIDS and TB are among migrant workers, with the long-term goal to enhance prevention and treatment. "We want to try and understand what the potential could be for an emerging epidemic. We're concerned that Mexico could experience a dramatic increase in HIV/AIDS cases," said Dr. George Lemp, director of the UCARP. The study will be the largest collaboration between Mexican and US government officials on infectious diseases and could take up to five years, according to Lemp.

A 2002 study found strikingly high HIV infection rates in migrants who travel between Tijuana and San Diego, with rates up to four times higher than other California cities. "The border is not just political, economic or military, it's epidemiological," said Xóchitl Castañeda, director of the California-Mexico Health Initiative, a partnership created two years ago by Mexican President Vicente Fox and the University of California.

At Fresno's University Medical Center, roughly 10 percent of the 550 current patients at the HIV clinic are Mexican migrants, said Dr. Roger Mortimer, medical director of the clinic. "Typically, the patients we see have been infected for a while and come to us with some kind of opportunistic infection," Mortimer said. "When we see them, we have to start by explaining what HIV is because often they have never even heard of it."

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Excerpted from:
Sacramento Bee
04.25.03; Lesli A. Maxwell

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