Advanced technology in HIV testing seems to be revealing what some local public health officials have suspected all along — that there are likely more men and women living with the disease in the Imperial and Mexicali valleys then what the official numbers show.
Since March, mouth swab HIV/AIDS tests have been given discreetly and freely at the Walgreens in Calexico and El Centro, and in that time, of 49 people tested, 19 have tested positive in the preliminary results. Those numbers are not among the official estimates locally, because, one, in order for the disease to be reported to the county a second blood test has to be done and, two, the Walgreens tests will be reflected in San Diego County.
It is being assumed that 90 percent of those testing positive with the swabs are from Mexico, but with the transient nature of the border region, that fluidity puts everyone at risk if those being tested are in denial and not educating and medicating themselves.
That’s the reality when dealing with HIV and the Latino community. There are cultural stereotypes and mores that play into seeking treatment and acknowledging there is a problem. In some cases, the affected men and women are involved in high-risk lifestyles like intravenous drug use and unprotected sex, and well, who’s to say they won’t continue that way of life unabated?
The best we can hope for in these cases is continued outreach by local public health officials to share knowledge, to try to counsel those testing themselves to return for follow-ups, learn that life with HIV is not a death sentence, and most important, we need to break through the barriers of a culture that still believes HIV and AIDS is a gay disease.
The numbers for women in general show that to be a lie: women are among the fastest-growing segment of society to be diagnosed with the disease, and the HIV infection rate for Latinas is four times higher than that for non-Hispanic white women.
Imperial County, through the AIDS/HIV clinic at Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo is doing fantastic work in treating and educating the infected population both here and in Mexicali. But it can only do so much; it can only reach so many.
Unless there is headway in breaking through the cultural morass that denies the prevalence of the disease, that denies continued testing and treatment, then even local efforts will not have the impact that they could.
Nineteen positive preliminary HIV tests have been seen locally since March.
There needs to be continued outreach and breaking through cultural barriers to continue treatment efforts.
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