Migrant crisis the focus of Mexico’s HIV/AIDS conference
The Mexican healthcare system is trying to cope with migrants entering the country without papers, money and some not knowing their HIV status
Mexico City — The spread of HIV/Aids as a serious aspect of Latin America’s migration crisis — whether through Venezuelans forced to emigrate to obtain medicine or Central American migrants unaware they carry the virus — will be a focus of the world HIV/Aids conference opening on Sunday in Mexico City.
About 6,000 scientists, physicians, activists and government officials are due to learn about the latest in treatments and research and discuss the human and social costs of Aids and HIV.
At present, no programme focuses on Latin America’s HIV-infected migrants, said Brenda Crabtree, a Mexican physician and Aids specialist who is co-chair of the conference.
Ahead of the conference, organisers took participants who arrived early to a clinic in Iztapalapa, one of Mexico City’s poorest and most dangerous neighbourhoods.
The Condesa clinic welcomes patients from any country, without inquiring about their legal status, and provides free care.
While some parts of the Mexican public health system demand that a patient’s papers be in order, the Condesa clinic aims to be “a sanctuary” for migrants, Crabtree said.
In Venezuela, about 120,000 people live with HIV/AIDS and need retroviral medicines, but nearly 80,000 are unable to obtain those drugs, she added.
About one in four foreign patients at Condesa is Venezuelan; 16% are Colombian; and another 16% come from Central American countries, clinic director Florentino Badial said.
There are also growing numbers of Haitians and Cubans.
Most of the Venezuelans and Colombians arrived legally in Mexico in search of work; most of the Central Americans are undocumented.
The Central Americans, generally less well-educated, are afraid, said Luis Manuel Arellano, a clinic employee. “But we treat them like we would any Mexican.”
When a caravan brought thousands of migrants to Mexico in November, the clinic offered free testing and found six undetected cases of HIV, which were then treated.
“Migrants are not abandoned,” Arellano said. “We take care of their health.”
Carlos Gamez, a 32-year-old Cuban, arrived in Mexico in 2017, having just been diagnosed with HIV. He was able to find drugs at the clinic. “If I had had to pay, it would not have been possible,” he said.