Mexican LGBT center helps with HIV work

Published: June 2, 2011

Mexico has one of the lowest HIV rates in Latin America, with approximately .38 percent of the adult population living with the virus, according to CENSIDA, Mexico’s official government HIV/AIDS agency. By contrast, the adult HIV infection rate in the United States is about .60 percent. Nicaragua and Bolivia are the only two Latin American countries that have lower HIV rates than Mexico.

In 2001, CENSIDA estimated that about 11 percent of men who have sex with men are HIV-infected. CENSIDA says the only group in Mexico with a higher HIV rate is sex workers, 15 percent of whom are living with HIV. By way of comparison, about 20 percent of MSMs in the U.S. are HIV-positive, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The doctor who heads CENSIDA is both openly gay and HIV-positive. Jorge Saavedra L—pez has long campaigned against LGBT discrimination and has lobbied for increased HIV/AIDS funding. Mexico currently provides free HIV medications and treatment to its residents.

The focus of HIV diagnosis and treatment is decentralized so programs can be tailored to individual communities. A good example of this can be found in Mexico’s second-largest city, Guadalajara. The city is sometimes referred to as the San Francisco of Mexico because of its large gay population.

Guadalajara’s LGBT center, named Colega OAC, which is derived from its longer name, Comite lesbico gay de Occidente or Committee of Lesbian and Gays of the West, can take some credit for helping to keep the spread of HIV in check. The primary focus of the center is HIV prevention as well as LGBT civil rights.

The center relies on volunteers and depends on four paid employees who agree to work for much less than they could make elsewhere. Most of the funding Colega gets is from the government. Its annual budget is tiny by U.S. standards. Its maximum budget is about $60,000 annually and it varies depending on approved projects, according to Colega’s head Isidro Garcia.

Colega provides rapid HIV testing and provides safe-sex counseling and condoms to people who stop by. The center also provides and distributes literature promoting safe sex. The center is located in the Analco neighborhood, about a 20-minute walk from downtown, which is the gayest part of the city, with more than two-dozen gay bars and nightclubs.

 Colega has a number of workshop meetings focusing on various topics relating to LGBT civil rights. A gay youth group meets there regularly and is one of the center’s most popular offerings.

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