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28 February 2006
HIV Exploding In Tijuana

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine are sounding a warning over the rapidly increasing number of HIV/AIDS infections in Tijuana, Mexico. In a new study, appearing in The Journal of Urban Health, they say as many as one percent of the inhabitants of the popular tourist destination may be infected.

Study author Kimberly C. Brouwer, at UCSD's Division of International Health, believes the explosive increase in HIV infection could be linked to Tijuana's proximity to the United States, which creates economic opportunities that attract migrants from elsewhere in Mexico. Such migration is linked to lower socio-economic status, social and political alienation, lower awareness of HIV and, in some cases, substance use and sex work - all contributing factors that can lead to increased vulnerability to HIV infection. The researchers say that cross-border mobility is a concern, with 64 percent of Tijuana's residents reporting crossing the border into the United States at least once a month.

Worryingly, data in the study suggests that Tijuana's HIV infection rate may be close to three times higher than Mexico's national average. The United Nations AIDS Program considers a HIV epidemic to advance from a low level to a concentrated epidemic when more than 1 percent of the population is infected - a figure that Tijuana may soon approach if preventive steps aren't taken, say the researchers.

"Intervention and prevention on both sides of the border are urgently needed, because of the high mobility between Tijuana and San Diego County," said Brouwer, adding that high-risk groups - men who have sex with men, injection drugs users, sex workers and pregnant women - are of particular concern.

"Other studies by this team reveal that only half of female sex workers and one third of injection drug users in Tijuana have ever had an HIV test," said co-researcher Carlos Magis-Rodriguez, at CENSIDA (Mexico's federal HIV/AIDS agency). "Simple steps, such as proper use of condoms and increasing the availability of sterile syringes, can make a major difference in fighting this epidemic," added UCSD's Steffanie Strathdee.

Source: University of California - San Diego

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