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International News

More Indigenous Guatemalans Turn to Sex Work, Stoking HIV Fears

December 12, 2008

Health workers are seeing an increasing number of Maya women travel to Guatemala City to work as prostitutes, and many could return to their home communities with HIV/AIDS.

"They've come here more and more because they can earn four, five, even 10 times what they could make in other jobs," said Dr. Marco García, whose clinic near the La Terminal red-light district offers HIV screening and treatment. More clients are indigenous than ever before, he said, as a handful of Maya women sat in the waiting room with small children. "They realize the risks of contracting diseases, but prostitution pays."

"Many come from indigenous communities and many of them had been deported," said Maria Tallarico, who oversees UNAIDS in Guatemala. "They have no jobs, there is no social system to support them, so they go into prostitution.

"They act as a bridge for [HIV/AIDS] and related diseases, bringing it back to the general population," she said. "We don't yet have firm numbers, but hospitals are seeing more cases of tuberculosis and STDs, as well as more AIDS cases."

Clinics serving the poor, including García's, are being overwhelmed. "Our largest issue is always money," said Ana Castillo, executive director of the Fundación Marco Antonio, which operates the clinic. "We are funded by the government, and the Ministry of Health receives budget cuts regularly. We couldn't possibly expand our services."

In recent years, a clinic in the in the Western Highlands that serves indigenous Guatemalans has seen demand for HIV/AIDS treatment surge. Several years ago, it saw just seven patients. Now it serves 40-50 every day. Most want nutritional advice, but many are presenting with symptoms of HIV/AIDS.

Back to other news for December 2008

Adapted from:
Miami Herald
11.28.2008; Ezra Fieser

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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