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Mexicans with HIV/AIDS lack treatment access

Government in 2019 created new health care entity

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Roberto Navarro (Photo courtesy of Roberto Navarro)

MEXICO CITY — Roberto Navarro has been a dancer since he was 17. Jazz became his passion and he fell in love with classical dancing after he took many classes. And he began to teach four years later.

“I’m so happy when I teach dancing to my girls because they bring me so much joy, I feel like I help my girls to become better women, without noticing I’m some kind of a therapist,” Navarro told the Los Angeles Blade. 

He discovered the discipline of dancing in heels in 2014, which made him connect and explore more with his sexuality. He did, however, suffer a lot of bullying because of it.

Navarro — a 33-year-old gay man who is originally from Sahuayo de Morelos in Michoacán state —  currently owns a dance salon. Navarro said he started to become an entrepreneur, but it hasn’t been easy because of the pandemic. 

He was diagnosed with HIV in 2016. Navarro suffered from depression for several months after he learned his status.

“I woke up very overwhelmed in the morning thinking that I had to go to the hospital to make a long line of patients; to have blood drawn for fast screening tests,” he said. “We arrived at 7 in the morning and left until 1 in the afternoon.”

Navarro has been receiving treatment for almost five years, and he is still dancing.

“Subsequently, I went to my consultations every three or six months depending on my results,” he stated. “By the third month I was undetectable.”

Navarro started with Atripla, an antiretroviral drug he received through Mexico’s Seguro Popular, and he was undetectable a month later. 

A shortage of Atripla forced a change to Biktarby after President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in 2019 scrapped Seguro Popular and created the Health Institute for Wellbeing (INSABI). The pharmaceutical company Gilead has said there are many counterfeit versions of the drug on the market.

Seguro Popular in 2018 had almost 52 million beneficiaries. The National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL) said INSABI at the end of 2020 had more than 34 million beneficiaries.

Antiretroviral drugs have been available in Mexico since 2003, although the Mexican health system is divided into various subsystems based on where one works.

  • Institute of Social Security and Services for State Workers (ISSSTE)
  • Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMS)
  • INSABI (Health Institute for Wellbeing) that was previously known as the Seguro Popular

They vary in the time it takes to receive medication and the time for CD4 viral load tests. The availability of appointments with infectious disease specialists varies in each of the three public health systems.

People with INSABI will take longer to get tests and have access to doctors. It must also be recognized that everyone, in theory, has the possibility of accessing medicines, but it also depends on the states in which they live. 

There are three health care systems in Mexico. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The number of people without access to healthcare in Mexico rose from 20 million to almost 36 million between 2018-2020. INSABI, more than a year after its creation, still does not completely cover the same amount as its predecessor.

INSABI is an independent agency through the Ministry of Health that aims to “provide and ensure the free provision of health services, medicines and other inputs associated with people without social security.” The General Health Law says it was to replace Seguro Popular, which was in place from 2004-2019.

“The situation for treatment right now, it’s quite complex, particularly because there have been many changes in the health department of Mexico, and this has to do with the fact that in 2003 when the Seguro Popular was established; there was an increase to comprehensive care for people living with HIV and resources for prevention strategies which are mainly handled through civil society organizations that obtained money from the government.” stated Ricardo Baruch, who has worked at the International Family Planning Federation for almost 15 years.

López,, who took office in 2018, sought to eliminate Seguro Popular, which was the mechanism by which access to antiretroviral drugs were given to most people living with HIV in the states with greater vulnerability. This change was done in theory to expand access for everyone, but the opposite happened.

There is less access due to the modification of purchasing mechanisms and a huge shortage throughout the country. Baruch says this situation has caused a treatment crisis across Mexico.

“The truth is that the Seguro Popular helped me a lot to have my treatments on time, what I do not like is that there is not enough staff to attend all the patients that we are waiting for our consultations,” said Erick Vasquez, a person who learned in February he is living with HIV.

Vasquez, 34, is an artist who works in Guadalajara and Playa del Carmen. 

Vasquez did not have health insurance like other people through IMS. He obtained access to Seguro Popular through an organization that supports people with HIV, but he has to wait until October for his first appointment.

Vasquez, who has a very low viral load, in March began a job through which he obtained IMS. He had access to his treatments through it.

He received three months worth of Biktarvy at the end of June; one prescription for each month. He said the drug is not difficult to obtain.

“I have not had any problem with the medication, it is not difficult to get it when you are on the insurance, but there is still a long time left until October,” said Vasquez.

The cost of the antiretroviral treatment in Mexico is approximately $650 per month, and one bottle has only 30 pills. 

“I have not had side effects, I have not had nausea, I don’t vomit, I take a pill daily, it is one every 24 hours,” Vasquez said. “I feel very well and I hope very soon to be undetectable.”

Members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Mexico City who are living with HIV perform at Clínica Condesa, a public health clinic in Mexico City, on July 21, 2019. The clinic’s 20th anniversary coincided with the International AIDS Society’s Conference on HIV Science that took place in the Mexican capital. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Infrastructure over health 

Prevention resources were eliminated, and health resources today are used to finance the Felipe Ángeles International Airport at the Santa Lucía military base in Zumpango in Mexico state, a new refinery, the Mayan train and other major infrastructure projects. And this causes many people who want to access treatment not to receive them. It takes much 

The cost of the work, including the land connected with the Mexico City International Airport and various military facilities, is set at 82,136,100,000 Mexican pesos and there are provisions to serve 19.5 million passengers the first year of operations, according to a report from the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA). 

There are, on the other hand, far fewer HIV tests and this shortage has led to a much higher arrival of late-stage HIV cases and even AIDS in hospitals. This trend is particularly serious among transgender women and men who have sex with men.

“Here in Mexico we concentrate the HIV pandemic, and that we are at a time when this issue of shortages has not stabilized, that there is already more clarity in purchases, but it is well known that all these changes in health systems continue for a year over the years they cause the situation to be increasingly fragile and in the matter of migrants that previously there was certainty so that they could access medicines through the Seguro Popular, now there is a legal limbo for which in some states it depends: on the states, the clinic or social worker; whether or not they give you medications,” said Baruch.

“If you are not a resident or a national here in Mexico, this is a matter won for people in transit seeking political asylum or who had stayed in Mexico,” he added.

Migrants lack access to HIV treatment

Mexico is located between the three regions with the world’s highest rates of HIV: the Caribbean, Central America, and the U.S. This has been used as a foundation for a culture of hatred against migrants, according to Siobhan McManus, a biologist, philosopher, and researcher at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Sciences and Humanities of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

The lack of opportunities, violence and climate change that forces people whose livelihoods depend on agriculture to abandon their homes prompts migration from Central America.

Most migrants — LGBTQ or otherwise — experience violence once they arrive in Mexico.

Migrants wait for humanitarian visas at the Ciudad Hidalgo port of entry in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, on Jan. 30, 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Chiapas and other states have created an extensive network of clinics known by the Spanish acronym CAPASITS (Centro Ambulatorio para la Prevención y Atención en SIDA e Infecciones de Transmisión Sexual) that are specific HIV and STD units in major towns. They are often within close proximity to most people’s homes.

Sonora and Chihuahua states, which border the U.S., often have such clinics in only one or two cities. This lack of access means people will have to travel up to six hours to access these treatments.

People who have already been receiving treatment for a long time were previously given up to three months of treatment. They now must travel every month to receive their medications because of the shortages.

PrEP available in Mexico

The shortage of medical drugs for people who already live with HIV is a current issue for the Mexican government, but they have made free PrEP available for those who want to prevent themselves from the virus. 

Ivan Plascencia,  a 24-years old, who lives in Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco state , has been using PrEP for several years since he became sexually active and he never had any complaints about the medication. Plascencia instead recommends his close friends to take advantage of this prevention drug that is available in one of the CAPASITS where he lives.

Post-pandemic screening tests

There are an estimated 260,000 people in Mexico who are living with HIV. Upwards of 80 percent of them knew their status before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of new cases that were detected in 2020 were 60 percent less than the previous year, but this figure does not mean HIV rates have decreased. 

In Jalisco, which is one of Mexico’s most populous states with upwards of 8 million people, there was a 40 percent increase in positive cases in 2020 compared to 2019. This increase has put a strain on service providers.

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Mexico

Five Calif. Congress members visit Tijuana shelters for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers

Delegation traveled to Mexican border city on May 6

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Members of Congress and LGBTQ+ activists on May 6, 2022, visited Casa Arcoíris, a shelter for LGBTQ asylum seekers in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Keeffe)

TIJUANA, Mexico — Five members of Congress from California last week visited two shelters for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers in Tijuana.

Congress members Mark Takano, Raul Ruiz, Juan Vargas, Katie Porter and Sara Jacobs on May 6 toured Jardín de las Mariposas and Casa Arcoíris.

The Council for Global Equality organized the trip.

Chair Mark Bromley, Co-chair Julie Dorf and Senior Policy Fellow Bierne Roose-Snyder traveled to Tijuana along with Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration Executive Director Steve Roth. Representatives of the Transgender Law Center and the Refugee Alliance also met with the group.

The trip began in San Diego.

“As we work to fix our broken immigration system, improve border efficiency, and restore asylum at our borders, we must take a humanitarian approach and proactively protect all vulnerable populations lawfully seeking asylum in our country,” said Ruiz in a statement his office issued before the trip. “The LGBTQI community is one of the most vulnerable to face persecution, violence, and abuse in their home countries, throughout their journey to our borders, and in detention centers. As a trained humanitarian, I am going to assess their vulnerabilities and help provide humanitarian protections that are consistent with our American laws and their human rights.” 

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Mexico

Baja California governor vetoes conversion therapy ban bill

Measure overwhelmingly passed in Mexico state’s Congress on April 21

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Baja California Gov. Marina del Pilar Ávila Olmeda (Photo courtesy of Olmeda's Instagram page)

MEXICALI, Mexico — The governor of Mexico’s Baja California state has vetoed a bill that would ban so-called conversion therapy.

The bill, which passed in the Baja California Congress on April 21 by a 20-4 vote margin, would specifically amend the state’s Penal Code and non-discrimination law to ban the discredited practice. Anyone convicted of conversion therapy would be fined and receive a sentence of between 2-6 years in prison.

Media reports indicate Gov. Marina del Pilar Ávila Olmeda vetoed the bill in order to send it back to lawmakers “to be able to strengthen this initiative from our points of view.” Eduardo Arredondo, an activist and member of the Congress’ Youth Parliament who pushed for the measure, on Tuesday told the Los Angeles Blade that Ávila made her decision in response “to the pressure that conservative groups put on her.”

“They maintain that each person is free to profess the religion that they want and can therefore act in accordance to their beliefs,” said Arredondo. “This includes seeking ‘help’ or an ‘advisory opinion’ in a situation in which their son or daughter is a member of the LGBT+ community. They also maintain that they, as parents, have the right to seek help to educate their child in the best way.”

Arredondo in a statement further defended the bill.

“The approval of the (conversion therapy) bill in Baja California represents a big step forward in the recognition of the rights of the LGBT+ community in the state,” he said. “The delay in the publication of the law on the part of the governor represents a setback in the guarantee of these rights. As long as this law is not published, therapies will continue to take place and many young people and children will continue to be subjected to these practices.”

Altagracia Tamayo is the president of Centro Comunitario de Bienestar Social (COBINA), a group in the state capital of Mexicali that serves LGBTQ+ people and other vulnerable groups.

Tamayo on Monday at a press conference that Comité Orgullo Mexicali, another local LGBTQ+ rights group, organized in response to Ávila’s veto said she survived conversion therapy.

“Conversion therapy damages the most intimate part of what makes children and young people a human being,” said Tamayo.  

Seven other jurisdictions in Mexico have banned conversion therapy.

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Mexico

Global Equality Caucus launches chapter in Latin America

Officials from across region attended launch in Mexico City

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The Global Equality Caucus earlier this month officially launched its Latin America chapter during a meeting it held in Mexico City (Photo courtesy of the Mexican Senate)

MEXICO CITY — A group of LGBTQ+ elected officials from around the world that fights discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has launched a Latin America chapter.

The Global Equality Caucus earlier this month launched the chapter during a meeting in Mexico City.

Upwards of 100 elected officials in Mexico — local, state and national — joined representatives of LGBTQ+ rights groups and allies at the event. Twenty elected officials from Central America and more than 30 LGBTQ+ activists and human rights defenders from the region attended.

Mexican Sens. Patricia Mercado and Martha Lucía Mícher; Mexico City Assemblyman Temístocles Villanueva Ramos; Mexico City Secretary of Labor and Employment José Luis Rodríguez Díaz de León; Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ+ issues, and Nick Herbert, a member of the British House of Lords who advises Prime Minister Boris Johnson on LGBTQ+ issues, are among those who spoke at the meeting. Guatemalan Congressman Aldo Dávila, Costa Rican Congressman Enrique Sánchez and Mexico City Assemblywoman Ana Francis López Bayghen Patiño, among others, also attended.

“Right now we see different speeds in the advance of our rights, but we have the conviction that we can advance substantively towards full equal rights if we speak to those who make decisions in Congresses, national and local governments and in civil society,” Global Equality Caucus Membership and Projects Coordinator for Latin America Erick Ortiz told the Washington Blade.

Ortiz in 2021 ran for the El Salvador National Assembly. He would have been the first openly gay man elected to the country’s legislative body if he had won.

The Global Equality Caucus’ Latin America chapter will hold its second meeting in Buenos Aires next month.

Editor’s note: The Blade published a Spanish version of this article on April 14.

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