By Zach Dyer, in the Tico Times News, December 1, 2014
(Link to article at bottom)
Nearly half of all HIV-positive people in Costa Rica are unemployed or not looking for work, according to a recent survey. The results were first published on Nov. 27 amid several events leading up to World AIDS Day on Monday.
An HIV and AIDS awareness parade took place in San José on Saturday, and on Monday the Costa Rican Social Security System is hosting a free event in Parque Central from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., where they will provide rapid results HIV tests, information about the virus, free condoms and health advice.
Juan Carlos Zamora, director of the Costa Rican Demographic Association that carried out the study, told The Tico Times that the unemployment rate is one of several alarming results they discovered. Zamora said a constellation of factors contribute to the dire economic conditions in which many people with the immunodeficiency virus find themselves, from missed job opportunities to pressure to leave their neighborhoods or places of work, to health complications that could prevent them from working. For example:
These same anxieties spill over into respondents’ private lives, too:
More than 9,800 Costa Ricans over 15 years old have HIV as of 2013, according to estimates from ONUSIDA. The Costa Rican Social Security System, known as the Caja, reported that 6,218 people have HIV in Costa Rica. Public hospitals diagnosed 694 new cases in the last year, the agency reported Thursday.
Men remain the group most affected by the virus in Costa Rica, representing 80 percent of the cases, according to the Health Ministry. Men who have sex with men are the group most at risk for infection. The rate of HIV infection has grown here between 2002 and 2013, from 8.6 to 14.6 per 100,000 inhabitants.
"Oh Lord, please help my heart from getting hard...."
Some prayers I find myself repeating over and over. "God, please help me to view this [incapacitated] patient as more than just a [physical] body...." "Lord, please help me never walk by a homeless person without showing kindness towards them...." "Jesus, help me never dialogue with a sex worker without feeling compassion for them, without showing Your love...."
Prayers that I find myself repeating, because, when subjected to repeated suffering, the human psyche automatically wants to harden and not feel, because it hurts.... Because to "rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep" costs us.... [Romans 12:15] Yes, it costs us....
Because the greater the other person's pain, the more it costs us to enter into that pain and sit there with them, even if only for a moment. But, alas, love can not be "fake." Love can not "gloss over." Love can not be "nice."
"What good is it...if someone claims to have faith but does not have actions [to show that faith]?" James writes [James 2:14.] A person who is suffering recognizes real love. The deeper their suffering, the more they can see through "niceness" but also recognize real love.... (As I quickly learned working with AIDS patients on days I felt little energy to muster real "love," thinking I would just be nice...but I was read like a book, and their eyes quickly told me; oh, how I learned....)
In Costa Rica, I come across harsh realities every day, where I find myself praying, "Oh, Lord, please help my heart from getting hard...."
This image is taking from a guide on prostitution in Costa Rica written in English. A man who identifies himself as "Roger Fitzpatrick" writes in it:
"You can find sex with almost anyone you want in Costa Rica, believe it or not. Simply offer any attractive person you see $10. If they smile, take their hand and lead them to your lair. You won't offend them; in this culture it is taken as a compliment, so feel free & the worst thing is they might just shake their head and walk away. What have you got to lose? My friend does this all the time & has some AMAZING stories."
Is what "Roger Fitzpatrick" says true? Is such a thing truly a compliment? Most of the time, no. I walk the streets of Costa Rica and have good Tico (Costa Rican) friends, and I have yet to encounter this as a norm here. Nor do local Ticos see themselves as prostitutes welcoming solicitation.
Which then opens a window for the unexposed into how dark the whole situation really is. These Gringos (U.S. citizens) and Western Europeans travel to poor countries, such as Costa Rica, because they will have opportunities to have sex with women of certain "caliber" who, if these same women were in wealthier countries and had access to more resources, would never prostitute themselves in the first place (that is actually what these "clients" think and how they "categorize" these sex workers, what these clients are told, and what they tell each other....) What these travelers do not know are how many of these sex workers are actually caught in sex trafficking (many of them.) And sadly, the United States is a huge supplier of "clients" feeding this sex trafficking industry; they do not travel to Costa Rica simply to go on guided fishing tours....
It is in this context of prostitution being "semi-legal" that HIV still has a horrific stigma. It is in this context that many medical doctors still do not want to treat HIV positive patients. It is in this context that I have watched slowly dying AIDS patients who never had regular support systems in place or experienced being well-loved by their families now often abandoned by those families, disowned. Even as I type these words, I can feel myself wanting to dissociate. I remember some of my patients faces.... I remember the depth of their suffering, and how it far exceeded what they tried to hide with their eyes.... Yes, It is in this concoction of many factors that the deep suffering of the HIV patient often brews.... It is in this context with the sex worker at night, with the AIDS patient during the day, that I find myself praying, "Oh, Lord, please help my heart from getting hard...."
What is the answer?
We must move out in action. We must move out in humble obedience and faith. That is what Jesus did, so that He could offer a transforming reality of new life.
What else did He do?
"Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." -Romans 12:15
"Jesus wept." -John 11:35
Lord, please help our hearts from getting hard. Soften our hearts, and help us move out in love....
[Below is the link to the Tico (Costa Rican) article I resourced from above; it reads in Spanish.
Ingrid Anne Stavrica
LoveAIDS would like to remind our partners & public that we are limited in both the stories and photos we can share do to needing to protect patient confidentiality, complying with patient privacy laws originating within both the U.S and the countries we work with.