Tijuana fights against HIV

Of over 5,700 drug addicts who use needles, only approximately 70 of them are infected with HIV

The little white van full of boxes inside which indicates that they have the "R", the kit which people will use to shoot up with. "Here comes Charo" they yell with excitement. Out of force of habit they start to line up, one behind the other, anxious, nervous.

It's time for their "dose", heroin, crystal meth, or maybe even both. First they picked up the needles they used during the week to "cure" themselves. This is the only requirement so the association Prevencasa provides them with their materials: Exchanging used needles for new ones.

For over 10 years, Prevencasa found a way to reduce the impact of the HIV epidemic which afflicted the most vulnerable population in the border, by exchanging old needles for new ones every day in an effort to reduce the propagation of this disease.

Rosario Lozada, Project Coordinator at Prevencasa, knows that both the organization and the program called "damage control" have been judged by some sectors of society which considers they are "promoting the vice". However they are still struggling to make people understand, especially "drugaphobics", that since the program has been implemented the widespread epidemic of HIV has been drastically reduced.

Historically, the highest number of people who have been infected with a disease due to needle sharing has been in the area known as "El Bordo". "Charo" Lozada remembers that 10 years ago, out of 15 drug users, 10 were infected.

Currently only 12 people have been identified as being infected with HIV all along the Tijuana River Canals, who each morning receive their treatment. Those working to prevent the disease, arrive every day to provide those that are sick with medication, which cost up to $15,000 pesos monthly.

Lozada informs us that up until a few years ago, Tijuana was first place at a national level of people who had HIV, and due to the collective efforts being taken, it is now down to 9th place. "Tijuana has become in a role model when it comes to fighting the epidemic, besides being one of two cities in Mexico who have managed to get access to the world health fund against HIV for those of low income"

"The program 'Damage control' was born 20 years ago, when there was a detection of people with HIV in Tijuana. It interested me a lot because the population has needs other than food or water, they also need someone to hear them out, they need to be referred to hospitals, as well has help cleaning their wounds.

At first they gave away small kits, but the need was too much and they could not afford it, so the organization started to look for alternate funding methods.

"We realized how important it was for them to have clean needles, that something as simple as a needle could save a persons life. When we first started delivering the package they couldn't believe that we were providing them with water which they could inject themselves, a kit to prepare the drug in, and cotton in which to 'cook' their dose".

Lozada remembers that addicts used to prepare their doses with sewage water from the canal: "now the kits include clean water, a towel with alcohol, and a cotton pack that doesn't release lint. After almost 2 decades, they are beginning to understand that they aren't supposed to share needles, because that has a risk of getting infected with HIV or Hepatitis C, which are very deadly".

This year, the civil association Prevencasa, will have it's 10 year anniversary of fighting against HIV, although it still considers that addicts need a place where they can consume drug in a safe manner, like they do in other countries.

"This way we can have a registry of drug users, document the diseases and illnesses they present, and offer a place for them to rehabilitate". In Tijuana there are around 5,700 registered drug users, of which only around 70 of them are actually infected with HIV in the entire city, not to mention most of them are currently receiving treatment for this illness.




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