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So, who needs health care?

17 July 2007

I do, but first I need to pay the electric bill ($200) and $300 in rent. And eat for the next month or so…

It’d be nice not to have to be so blunt about it, but I’m waiting to take a “regular job” (this is a small town and the doc who does the pee test is on vacation) which is going to cut into the work I can do here, and push the startup on my commercial site further behind, but I can’t go living on faith and partial payments indefinitely.

I saw Sicko (in a semi-official pirate version found by Burro Hall). Seeing I’m not the only uninsured person in the United States, I’m SOOOOO glad the President of the United States is working on health care in all the Americas.

The “White House Conference on the Americas” came and went last week. There was almost no mention in the press. The Miami Herald had a little bit:

The White House rolled out the red carpet and its biggest names Monday to tell the world that it really does care about Latin America and that it’s doing more for the region than most people believe.

President Bush and no fewer than five Cabinet secretaries touted U.S. initiatives before a group of 150 Latin American community groups and 70 U.S.-based organizations, many flown in at U.S. taxpayer expense.

At a luncheon speech, Laura Bush announced that the United States would work with Mexico, Costa Rica and Brazil to combat breast cancer in the Americas.

But more than big announcements, the White House Conference on the Americas was an exercise in public relations and regional networking.

If it was even about public relations, there wasn’t much accomplished. The biggest story out of the Canadian press was that some Canadian octet performed; the Stabroek News of Guyana reported two Guyanese doctors were going to Washington (it was a slow news week in Guyana) and a few social work newsletters mentioned various invites.

The ONLY coverage in the U.S. has been about who wasn’t there:

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban President Fidel Castro on Sunday scoffed at Bush administration efforts to ease social problems in Latin America, boasting his poor country could run circles around the United States in health and education aid.

“Bush will discover that the empire’s political and economic system can’t compete in the area of vital services such as education and health with Cuba, assaulted and blockaded for almost 50 years,” Castro wrote in an editorial published by the official newspaper Rebel Youth.

Mexico, by the way, has a low infant mortality rate and does offer free mamograms, though of course, it could do more. One reason I live on the border is cheap health care across the border…It ain’t perfect, but:

“The Mexican health reform has been a global laboratory for proving how to give access to a range of vital services to the entire population,” said Dr. Richard Horton, a physician and editor of The Lancet, an international medical journal. “It is a model even rich nations can learn from.”

If we really wanted to assist Latin American health care, we could begin at home…

Another consequence of the lack of healthcare for the poor in the United States is that OUR immigrant labor is sending home more than money. Mexico’s low AIDS rate is growing, due to our neglect of public health.

Marc Lacey in the International Herald Tribune:

Migrant workers … go to the United States with dreams of new prosperity, hoping to bring back dollars. But they are bringing back something else as well, HIV and AIDS, and they are spreading them in the rural parts of Mexico least prepared to handle the epidemic.

As immigration reform founders in the United States, the expanding AIDS crisis among the migrants goes virtually unaddressed on both sides of the border. Particularly in Mexico, AIDS is still shrouded by stigma and denial. In the United States, it is often assumed that immigrants bring diseases into the country, not take them away.

But AIDS is spreading quickly in rural Mexican states with the highest migration rates to the United States, researchers say. The greatest risk of contracting AIDS that rural Mexican women face is in having sex with their migrant husbands, a new study found, a problem that is compounded by the women’s inability to insist that their husbands use condoms.

The AIDS rate in Mexico is relatively low, especially in rural areas. According the the International AIDS/HIV Alliance, “It is still largely concentrated among men who have sex with men, but there has been a gradual shift towards injecting drug users and women becoming more affected.”

I remember the guy from Chiapas who chose to die in front of the Palacio Nacional as a protest against the lack of treatment in rural communities. That was in late 2001, before Julio Frenk’s reforms at the Secretaria de Salud were implemented. Frenk did a lot of make sure more treatment was available, fought for anti-discrimination laws and better sex education. What’s frightening now is that his successor seeks to undo much of what has worked in the past.

At least in the Capital, there is treatment (though the tight public health budget can only go so far, and the drugs are hugely expensive. Military personnel who contract AIDS cannot be booted out of the service, but have the right to treatment in military clinics and hospitals.

There have been creative campaigns — Farmacias Similares sells their own brand of discount condoms, and their owner ran a somewhat factitious campaign for President of the Republic to push low-cost heath care, free condoms and (of course) his own brand name. The Federal District has regular health fairs. I was at one where a stentorian-voiced drag queen (she must have a day job as a tout in Tepito) was demonstrating proper condom use to the teenage sons of traditional (white pajamas and all) campesinos.

And — much to the chagrin of the Bishops — Mexican education includes comprehensive sex education. But none of this is reaching the rural adults who are likely to emigrate.

Our anti-immigration folks like to whine that immigrants use the public health facilities here (which may be more anecdotal than anything. POOR PEOPLE use public health facilities in the U.S. UNINSURED people use public health facilities), but you won’t hear boo out of them about this.

I expect we MAY hear more about this though, as we get closer to the 2008 International AIDS Conference which will be held in Mexico City.

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