NAPS Guyana to implement HIV self-testing (HIVST) Pilot

2022 promises to be a year of tremendous progress for the National AIDS Programme Secretariat, Ministry of Health (Guyana). According to Dr Tariq Jagarine, Programme Manager, the Secretariat will commence an HIV self-testing (HIVST) Pilot, which will offer HIVST through four (4) public and private sites. The initiative will begin with a public education campaign encompassing social media and brochures on HIVST for distribution during community health promotion activities.

Dr Jagnarine highlighted that the Secretariat would conduct a National Assessment of Hepatitis C in Guyana. The assessment would involve the development of testing and treatment guidelines and policies. The Secretariat will also engage stakeholders to support the implementation of a Condom Distribution Strategy in conjunction with a strategy for Sexual Behavioral Change.

In addition, Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and non-occupational Post Exposure Prophylaxis (nPEP) services will be expanded to more public and private sites throughout Guyana.

For updates on the progress of these initiatives, visit the Secretariat’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100068814055936

National AIDS Commission (NAC) Belize Re-launches HIV Services App

The National AIDS Commission (NAC), Belize, recently re-launched its HIV Services App with a more user-friendly interface and improved features and specifications. Updates to the app, which was initially launched in 2018, include geo-location for accurate routes to testing sites. Additional new features include real-time updates, anonymous monitoring and evaluation for an inclusive and holistic response, in-app contact for convenience and accessibility, risk reduction information, and civil society organization (CSO) information.

The NAC Belize App is available for download on Android and IOS devices, and everyone is encouraged to utilize the application.

Spouses of CARICOM Leaders Action Network Elects New Chairperson

Image: H.E. Mrs Rossana Briceno, Spouse of the Prime Minister of Belize and Special Envoy for the Development of Families and Children

The Spouses of CARICOM Leaders Action Network (SCLAN) held its quarterly meeting on 26 October 2021, where H.E. Mrs Rossana Briceno, Spouse of the Prime Minister of Belize and Special Envoy for the Development of Families and Children, was officially elected as the new Chairperson of the Network.

H.E. Mrs Rossana Briceno will replace Mrs Patricia Minnis, Spouse of the Former Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas and outgoing Chair. SCLAN would like to express their appreciation to Mrs Minnis for her time as Chairperson of the Network and her commitment and work to ensure the health and wellbeing of women and children in the Region.

The meeting was also held to review the work of SCLAN in the Region, with emphasis placed on discussing the way forward for the next five years. The discussion was guided by the 2021 Strategic Plan that was recently completed to ensure continued advancement to safeguard the health and wellbeing of women and children in the Caribbean.

SCLAN was formally established on 5 September 2017 at a meeting held in Belize City, Belize, with the overarching goal of providing a framework where First Ladies could coordinate their efforts and use their platforms to advocate for and implement activities geared toward addressing areas of critical importance across the sub-region, namely, HIV and AIDS, gender-based violence, adolescent pregnancy, cervical cancer and mental health.

SCLAN would like to congratulate the new members of the Executive Board, which include Chair, H.E. Mrs Rossana Briceno, Spouse of the Prime Minister of Belize and Special Envoy for the Development of Families and Children and Vice-Chair, H.E. Mrs Mellisa Santokhi Seenacherry, First Lady of the Republic of Suriname.

Additional Board Members include H.E. Mrs Kristin Burt, Spouse of the Premier of Bermuda, H.E. Mrs Eloise Gonsalves, Spouse of the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, H.E. Mrs Sharon Rowley, Spouse of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Mrs Kim Simplis Barrow, Spouse of the Former Prime Minister of Belize, and Mrs Sandra Granger, Former First Lady of Guyana.

A mechanism to access technical support for your HIV programme

The UNAIDS Technical Support Mechanism (TSM) is a solution that provides countries with high-quality technical assistance using United States Government resources. It matches HIV programmes experiencing programmatic challenges with their Global Fund grants to the required experts. Essentially, the TSM pays professionals to serve governments, civil society and other stakeholders in countries receiving Global Fund support.

Belize tapped into this resource to pull together a high-powered consultancy team for its most recent Global Fund proposal. And Suriname is using it to source technical expertise to conduct an HIV investment case and review their National Strategic Plan. The Dominican Republic, Eastern Caribbean, Guyana, Haiti and Jamaica have all benefitted.

“Through the TSM, countries can source targeted, results-driven technical support to help them shape public policy, reach those being left behind and reduce inequalities,” explained Dr Otilia St. Charles, UNAIDS Caribbean PEPFAR/Global Fund Adviser.

In the Caribbean, countries and sub-regions in the process of transitioning from the Global Fund to domestic resources may have access to the mechanism. Generally speaking, requests should be made through governments but could involve other stakeholders such as civil society.

Mr Enrique Romero, Chair of the Belize National AIDS Commission, noted that using the mechanism allowed Belize to tap into a cadre of highly-trained regional professionals aware of the Caribbean context and Global Fund systems.

The following types of assignments can be supported through the TSM :

  • Develop Global Fund applications
  • Introduce efficiency-enhancing interventions in NSPs
  • Undertake HIV estimates modelling, National AIDS Spending Assessments; improve investment cases, target setting, costing and allocation optimization through modelling
  • Undertake Integrated Bio-Behavioral Surveillance studies, key population size estimates, gender assessments, and synthesis of data to enhance efforts to target key and vulnerable populations
  • Improve programme design and impact assessments for prevention programmes, including PrEP
  • Strengthen civil society organization capacity, including initiatives for adolescent girls and young women.
  • Support elimination of user fees, costing of social contracting, implementation of Stigma Index 2.0, and expansion of community-led responses

Ms Monique Holtuin, HIV Focal Point at the Ministry of Health, Suriname, advised that to optimize the process, country stakeholders should define technical assistance needs in advance and assign an officer for the administrative preparations.

To inquire about accessing the TSM, please contact Dr St. Charles at stcharleso@unaids.org. Requests for support should be made by letter and be addressed to UNAIDS Caribbean Director, Dr James Guwani at guwanij@unaids.org

Engaging Youth in Belize to prevent gender-based violence

The Spouses of CARICOM Leaders Action Network (SCLAN), in partnership with the National Women’s Commission with support from the Spotlight Initiative, embarked on a project “Engaging Men and Boys to advance gender equality and help prevent gender-based violence.”

This two-fold project included a “training of trainers” session to empower men and boys to understand the dynamics of gender-based violence and commit to helping end all forms of violence. After successfully completing this segment, participants were invited to facilitate workplace training sessions.  Participants included members from Belize Defence Force, Police Department, Belize Coast Guard, Department of Youth Services and other corporate bodies.

In phase 2 of the project, virtual “training of trainers” sessions were held using a similar format, focusing on engaging youth. Members from 17 youth organizations successfully completed the training sessions.

The next step was to host ten training sessions with youth organizations in Belize. On 23 October 2021, phase 2 of the project facilitated a training session with the Belize City Youth Shadow Council members. The session incorporated themes including gender, self-esteem, masculinity and accountability. It culminated with a semi-formal debate on domestic violence and the law.

The goal of the training sessions was to challenge deep-rooted cultural and social norms that can lead to violence, unpack varying perceptions on gender and empower boys and girls to be a part of the change to realize a gender-equal Caribbean that is free of violence.

Talk (Poem)

There is whispering

That a baby is coming

This type of talk, usually gleeful

Today feels almost evil

 

Yes, there are whispers,

But instead of baby showers

And celebration

There is consternation

There is speculating and postulating

“I wonder who the father is?”,

And “Well, if it was my kids…”

Murmurs in the streets–

About what she did in between the sheets

Ridicule in school–

About how the boy left her like a fool

 

Never-ending

constant judgement

Feeling like eyes are

On her every movement

When will it end?

With the baby’s inducement?

Get the Gist (Poem)

Concerning moral instruction
There is much that needs to be taught to our children
Tools to help develop a concept of positive thinking
Building a foundation on sobriety to support their understanding
Education is important

Lessons to assist with navigating through life will prove salient
Policy pontificates planting seeds of purpose
But action activates actualisation in the youth among us.

To state it simply, talking is not enough
Implementation and pragmatism must lie at the cusp
Some of the best examples we see of prevention policy implementation
Come from our observation of the animal kingdom

On the topic of adolescent pregnancy prevention
Adolescence itself is only a small part of the equation
Policymakers act as parents
Providing a foundation for the youth in this instance
Like the old people in all their wisdom would roar
Prevention is always better than cure
It is vital for us to know
The importance of teaching our young as they grow
Animals do it

So why do we as humans never seem to get the gist?
Empty crocus bag can’t stand up
Therefore we must pour value into our children –
Filling them, edified from bottom to top
Because before belly start to grow
There is much that goes on that you just don’t know
Children without properly constructed value systems
Are more likely to find themselves in compromising situations

In order to prevent such a revelation
Guidance is needed through wisdom and admonition

For example, look at the cheetah
On land, known as a quick and deadly predator
These animals generally go through stages
Cubs, adolescents and adults life through the ages
Despite being a predator, the female cheetah will stay with her young for as long as she could
In most cases, they are together straight into adulthood

This parenting formula
Is to ensure the youth do not fall prey to another predator
Because this parent understands that her child is vulnerable to the elements
And that it is in need of being taught the simple skill of discernment

In the case of the eagle, bird with majesty
High flight, speed, strength and beauty
So many qualities of richness to uncover
As a result, they teach their young the keys in keeping with that demeanour
Before eagles start to teach their young about flying
They ensure they know the concept of flapping

Gripped firmly to the nest, wings spread
And wind resistance will promote movement
That understanding is vital information to be taught
Before the lesson of flight to the nest is brought

The same concept applies to children
Values are to be instilled from an early age within them
Stand by their side, support and nurture
Help with the building of qualities promoting resilience in character

If animals understand it
That means we as humans could get this gist

Another topic
One where there is a lot for us as humans to mimic
Is that teaching is not all that there is
In most cases, the environment can determine the promise
Of either torment or bliss
Parents must be aware of where they place their child
One wrong decision can cause grief beyond the boundaries mild

Imagine putting your child in the arms of a predator
And you there, open and trusting – none the wiser
Vigilance is a huge part of the prevention strategy
Understanding the qualities that comes with the territory

Rock-a-bye baby on the treetop
When the wind blows the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall
And down will come baby, cradle and all.

That is what we sing
And no doubt promoting
Meanwhile, the eagle is building her nest out of harm’s way, away from predators
And we as humans put our children on the branches of impending danger

A turtle will lay its eggs in holes for protection
A chicken will sit on its nest for 21 days like a watchman
The animals seem to know it
So why can’t we get the gist?

Environment is important
To that understanding, we cannot afford to be resistant
If you are situated in a location where danger is imminent
Protection by herding is recommended and salient

Look at an elephant
Babies are quite vulnerable to predators on the hunt
So adults would create a barrier to secure its protection

No doubt – strategies coming out of experience and wisdom
Creating a wall-like stampede, scaring predators off
Intended to protect the promise of their young at all cost
And if animals could understand all this
Why is it so difficult for us as humans to get the gist?

Instead, we singing rock-a-bye baby,
With our children up in a tree
If we continue with this mentality
Pregnancy prevention will become an alien concept, completely
In fact, a hands-off approach might just be promoting the opposite
But programmes promoting action are things from which many can profit

Animals already seem to understand it
Now it is our turn as humans to get the gist.

Sophia (Poem)

Selfish! Apathetic! Immoral!

These were her labels as a teenage mother.

Her tears were never enough,

Even though they filled every corner of that dark square

She slumbered for many summers.

Nine months of anguish, she never asked for.

Only for a man she never knew, to decide that faith for her.

Taking a trip down memory lane to that marvellous night.

She was singing, She was dancing, Her soul was so bright.

But like a shadow, he came and made her float as high as a kite

She tried to come down but the winds were too strong

She tried to make a sound, but like a birthday candle

Her voice was burnt out.

Only 16, she had big dreams

To live in a big old city

To complete her medical degree

To be free like how any other teenage girl should be.

She is Sophia, a fighter, a feminist, a woman living more than her dreams

She lives in me and every other teenager listening to her story

Young girls

Protect each other, lift each other

Say no to peer pressure

Say no to drugs

Unintentional or not, be percipient, be streetwise

Join educational clubs

And let’s end child pregnancy for once.

Collaboration to Improve Transgender Medical Education

Researchers from the Faculty of Medical Sciences, The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, in collaboration with Butterfly Barbados (a local transgender civil society organisation), conducted a qualitative research project exploring the views and perceptions of medical educators regarding transgender health in March 2021.

The work was supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Small Grants Programme and sought to identify ways to expand transgender health coverage in Caribbean medical curricula and improve transgender care delivery.

The findings will be used to inform curriculum planning and development at Cave Hill in the coming academic year. For further information, contact Dr Michael Campbell – Michael.Campbell@cavehill.uwi.edu

PANCAP supports National AIDS Programmes with digital communication for continuity of HIV services during COVID-19

To support the continuity of HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services during COVID-19, PANCAP provided five (5) National AIDS Programmes with Samsung Galaxy Internet-enabled tablets.  The National Programmes will utilize the devices for monitoring and evaluation, appointment bookings, virtual communication with clients and other activities critical to ensuring that programme implementation continues and the gains made in the HIV response are protected and maintained.

Support for the initiative was provided via the Global Fund Project – Sustainability of Services for Key Populations in the Caribbean and the Global Fund’s COVID-19 Response Mechanism (C19RM), which focuses on mitigating the effects of the pandemic on HIV programme implementation.

The beneficiary countries included Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Guyana, Suriname and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Each National Programme received two (2) tablets.

Dr Rosmond Adams, Director, PANCAP, underscored the importance of supporting National Programmes during COVID-19.  “Digital communication and virtual platforms are essential in facilitating continuity of programme implementation, especially in this time of physical distancing, minimizing in-person meetings and working from home,” stated the Director. He further pledged continued support to all National Programmes as the Region continues to navigate COVID-19.