It’s 6:20 in the evening when Dr. Patricia Gonzalez-Zuniga pulls her battered brown van to a stop. It’s the first time she’s set up her mobile health clinic on a weeknight, so she’s picked the corner across from the Oscar Galvan Rivera Shelter, hoping nearby residents who use drugs or are homeless will see that she’s there.
Situated along a busy highway that separates the United States and Mexico on the outskirts of Tijuana’s red-light district, it’s a perfect spot, and volunteers quickly begin unpacking the van’s makeshift doctor’s office onto the sidewalk: Aging card tables are deployed and stacked with boxes of syringes, overdose kits, rubber gloves, and other supplies. Wobbly folding chairs are set out for the first patients, who don’t take long to spot Gonzalez-Zuniga and approach.
Doctors’ hours are now in session at the newest clinic combatting America’s addiction crisis, which is seeping over the border into Mexico.
Gonzalez-Zuniga, an HIV/AIDS specialist with the Global Health Institute at the University of California, San Diego, started these mobile clinics in 2015 in response to the growing number of people addicted to drugs living on the streets of Tijuana. A lifelong resident of the city, Gonzalez-Zuniga has spent nearly her entire life working with the poor in Tijuana, first volunteering with her mother as a child before beginning her medical career working with a pediatric doctor in orphanages and homeless shelters here.