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5 December 2002
Truckers Linked To Spread Of AIDS
by George Atkinson

The social behavior of sex workers and transportation workers along the U.S. - Mexico border has the potential to spread HIV and AIDS through North and Central America in much the same way the disease has spread through sub-Saharan Africa, according to a new University of Houston study.

Researchers at the University of Houston conducted the study in an attempt to understand one aspect of the social mechanisms through which people contract HIV and AIDS.

Avelardo Valdez, UH professor of social work, and his colleagues recently completed the two-year project examining high-risk sexual behavior and injecting drug use among sex workers on the U.S. - Mexico border, specifically in the region of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. Valdez completed a similar research project among sex workers in the Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, in 2001.

"The results of these studies indicate that sex work along the U.S. - Mexico border has important implications for the spread of HIV, AIDS and other infections in both countries. It's very important for us to monitor the behavior of these workers and identify its potential for spreading disease," Valdez said.

The data Valdez collected indicates that the majority of the sex workers' client bases included non-regular visitors from both the U.S. and Mexico, and a large proportion reported having unprotected sex with tourists and men associated with transportation industries.

"Many of these clients are long-haul truck drivers from regions throughout the U.S., primarily the Midwest," Valdez said. "The main thrust of the study focuses on the potential this social mechanism could play in the spread of AIDS as the virus gets into those populations of truck drivers. Keep in mind that this is how the virus is believed to have spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa, as transportation workers moved through border regions."

Valdez said in addition to the potential of the situation to spread AIDS, there are other sociological issues the study brings to light, such as the social and economic role of women in this region and the impact of globalization.

"We hope this information will be used as a pilot study and lead to a larger study of sex workers along the border, and perhaps we can include Mexican research collaborators," he said.

The two-year study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), was completed this summer. Valdez and his research team will present the findings at two conferences in Mexico in December: Dec. 4-6 at the Eighth Annual National Congress on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Vera Cruz, Mexico; and Dec. 6-7 in Cuernavaca, Mexico, at a conference sponsored by the Texas/World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Cross Cultural Research and Training on Mental Health and Psychosocial Factors in Health.

Valdez and his colleagues currently are working on another study of Mexican American heroin users in San Antonio, also funded by NIDA, that looks at the role of social networks in non-injecting drug users transitioning to injecting drugs and other high-risk behaviors associated with the spread of HIV/AIDS. The goal of the research is to provide information that can be used to develop network-based interventions for use among groups of non-injecting drug users to prevent the transition to injecting and other high-risk behaviors.




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