The number of people being infected with HIV in the Lower Rio Grande Valley is growing out of control, according to Valley Aids Council officials.
This time last year, from January to April 2013, over 200 people were diagnosed with HIV. While these numbers are alarming, they only accounted for individuals that got tested. According to VAC's Education Coordinator, Oscar Lopez, at least one person every day is diagnosed with HIV in the Valley.
"There's also a lot of human trafficking in the Valley we have a lot of men and women who are brought here into the United States from Central America, Latin America and held against their will, and many get exploited," said Lopez.
Read more below the jump.
While human trafficking continues to be a big problem in the Valley, Lopez also believes such a large increase in HIV cases can be attributed to a lack of sex education, particularly in Hispanic families. The Rio Grande Valley is almost entirely Hispanic populated, and it is one of the poorest regions in the U.S., with the lowest household income. The Valley also holds another national distinction: It has one of the most expensive health-care markets in the entire country.
Aside from the poor sex education people in the Valley receive, the widespread poverty, as well as the hardship of finding affordable health-care, the region is also right on the Texas border with Mexico, where populations from both sides interact daily. According to Lopez, NAFTA might also be contributing to the increase in HIV cases.
"It's made a huge impact into who is in the Valley and what they are bringing and taking away from here as well," said Lopez.
You can watch the complete interview below:
Growing up in a traditional Hispanic household in the Valley, sex was a topic of conversation that as a family one simply abstained from discussing. The only time the subject was ever brought up was when another very visible glaring problem -- the high percentage of teen pregnancies among Latinos -- occurred in the family or to someone we knew. Speaking about SIDA, AIDS in Spanish, is a conversation most Hispanic families in the Valley never have.
And as far as sex education in school, I am sure we're all aware of the extremely poor quality of job Texas sex ed does in teaching our teens about remaining safe, protected and tested.
Add all these factors up -- lack of education, poverty, geography, and conservative values -- and you have the perfect storm for such a tragedy.
For our readers in South Texas, free HIV mouth swab kits are available at all three Valley Aids Council facilities:
McAllen: 601 N. McColl, Suite B
McAllen, Texas 78501
Harlingen: 2306 Camelot Plaza
Harlingen, Texas 78550
Brownsville: 857 E. Washington, Suite G
Brownsville, Texas 78520
HIV mouth swab kits are also available for purchase at local pharmacies for $65. You can obtain more information from the Valley Aids Council at 1-800-333-SIDA.
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