05 May 2007

AIDS and Guatemala: Demographics

This will likely be the first in a common future topic: HIV and AIDS. Peace Corps Guatemala is starting to provide resources for volunteers to have secondary projects to help deal with the AIDS pandemic.

HIV is a problem in Guatemala?
HIV is a problem everywhere. The only place where less than 1 in a thousand people have HIV is the island of Svalbard.

In Guatemala, the World Health Organization estimates roughly 80,000 people live are infected, or 1.1% of the population. In the United States, the prevalance rate is about 0.7%.

Generally, there are three different demographics to be discussed with AIDS. The highest-risk group includes men who have sex with men, sex workers, and needle-users.

Men who have sex with men (MSM): We are not talking about all men who have sex with men, but those who have unprotected sex. In places where this is a very taboo topic, the rate at which it spreads is much higher because there is no education on the risk.

Sex Workers: While most people imagine prostitutes in Times Square, the vast majority of sex workers in the world don't consider themselves prostitutes. It's generally women who have sex with multiple men who support them in some way. In Guatemala, it may be a relationship somewhat like a mistress or a woman with a job that pays a little and she has a few lovers that take care of her in some economic way. Imagine a truck stop waitress who knows a few men that visit and help her pay the light bill.

Needle-users: While in rich nations we're talking about drug users only, tatoos and unclean practices for medicine have been a major problem as well in some places. In Honduras, for example, drugs using needles don't exist, but tatooing has posed a problem.

While these groups are at the highest risk, a medium-risk group is actually a higher number of people with HIV very often. These are people who have exposure to high-risk groups.

Generally, we're talking about people that have sex with multiple partners. One may imagine the woman you see at the bar night after night, but that's the rarity. We're usually talking about people that consider themselves monogomous, but practice what is referred to as serial monogomy. The way a serial killer is someone who kills multiple times, someone who practices serial monogomy is monogomous with multiple people. You may have unprotected sex with one partner, and then break up and have unprotected sex with another partner five months later.

In Guatemala, we're often discussing men with either a mistress or who has ever solicited a sex worker. I would guess that this demographic includes a third of all men.

The third group is that, while the lowest percentage of people in Guatemala, is still the fastest growing demographic infected with HIV.

Generally this lowest risk group generally refers to people who practice unprotected sex with one person, but does include the small percentage of abstaining people (since no one is at no-risk). The primary way one contracts the disease, sex, is usually by having sex with someone in a higher-risk group. Most often, it's an unfaithful spouse.

It's interesting to think about what group you're really in: while we generally consider people doing clearly risky behavior (heroine usage and soliciting prostitutes), what about if you've had several boyfriends with whom you had unprotected sex? How do you know you don't have it?

AIDS testing, while imperfect, is offered by most state clinics (in county seats) and countless other organizations. To find a nearby testing site in the US, visit the link below.

http://www.hivtest.org/

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