Belize’s Global Fund Grant Launched

In April, the National AIDS Commission (NAC), Belize, formally launched Belize’s Global Fund Grant in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MoHW).

The Global Fund approved Belize’s funding request (2022-2024) for a total allocation of USD 2,998,947 to advance the country’s response to HIV and AIDS.  In addition, a Prioritised Above Allocation Request (PAAR) totalling USD 987,000 was also approved by the Global Fund.

The Launch signified the commencement of activities under the Grant.

Activities include supporting the implementation of HIV self-testing, building on work currently being undertaken with PANCAP-CVC-COIN Regional Global Fund grant funding.  The new Grant will also support the procurement of dual test kits for HIV and Syphilis testing for immediate diagnosis and treatment among Key Populations (KPs).

Activities under the Grant will include retention in care through psychosocial support, including counselling and nutritional packages and referrals to People Living with HIV (PLHIV) and HIV negative KPs.  Further, the Grant will support the procurement of GeneXpert machines and cartridges to decentralise diagnostics for TB and VL testing to all treatment sites, providing access to services for persons closer to where they live and work.

The Grant also encompasses the implementation of an Integrated Bio-behavioral Survey and the completion of a drug resistance study, the development of safety and security plans for KPs and skills training among the LGBTIQ community to reduce economic dependence and vulnerability to HIV and other STIs.

In addition, the Grant will support human resources, including the position of TB/HIV Coordinator, four new laboratory technicians and two additional adherence counsellors for coordination, supervision, adherence and viral load decentralisation.

“Let’s Stop HIV Together” Launch of HIV Anti-stigma videos

Soroptimist International of Port of Spain (SIPOS) in partnership with the National AIDS Coordinating Committee (NACC) commissioned four (4) short videos which are relevant to the various forms of HIV and AIDS stigma. The launch of these videos was strategically planned for 1 March 2022 which is Zero Discrimination Day. 

SIPOS and NACC are making a contribution toward the UNAIDS–led global effort “to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030” as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, through the production and dissemination of educational resource material aimed at reducing the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS. 

The reduction of this stigma could lead to greater understanding of the disease by the general population and thus better management of the disease through more persons being tested, more persons seeking treatment and staying on medication and a reduction in new cases.  

A one-year timeline for the rollout of the programme is being developed which would also incorporate a monitoring and evaluation framework. The material will be gifted to interested non-profit organisations (NGOs) and institutions who will be encouraged to implement strategies for the engagement and discussion of the videos in their communities via communication channels, workshops or focus group sessions in order to raise awareness and remove the stigmatization.  

While the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is doing fairly well in some areas towards the control of the spread of HIV, the fear of discrimination and the stigma that our society expresses prevent many of the persons with HIV from seeking the services and medication that will allow them to have long, productive lives. Our recent statistics show that it is the 15-49 age group within the population who continue to be the group with new HIV cases. 

SIPOS is a member of Soroptimist International which is a worldwide organization for women in management and other professions, working through service projects to advance human rights and the status of women. 

The NACC is a multi-sectoral coordination committee involved in building and deepening multi-sectoral partnership to achieve national commitment, support and ownership of the HIV and AIDS response. 

Image: Symbolic Handover of HIV Anti-Stigma Videos (L-R): Ms Heather Rodney, Chair of the National AIDS Coordinating Committee officially receives the four (4) HIV Anti-Stigma videos from Ms Patricia Adams, Programme Action Officer, Soroptimist International, Port of Spain which were launched on the occasion of Zero Discrimination Day 2022. 

SCLAN creates youth against violence video for the Spotlight Initiative

As a part of the “Engaging Men and Boys” Project, the Spouses of CARICOM Leaders Action Network (SCLAN) and the National Women’s Commission (NWC), Belize, through support from the Spotlight Initiative embarked on a gender-based violence (GBV) public education campaign that ran parallel to its youth training sessions, from November 2021 to February 2022.

The awareness campaign included creating digital posters with profiles of youths who participated in the training sessions. These posters were posted on all social media platforms. The campaign also included the production of a video showcasing male youth in Belizean society who are using their voices to speak up against GBV and to advance gender equality.

The video was recorded at locations in both Belize City and San Ignacio Town and included youth who participated in one of the training sessions and who are active agents of change in their communities. They were all eager to share their commitment to prevent GBV and to encourage and inspire their peers to stand alongside them to become positive role models as future men, fathers and partners.

SCLAN expressed gratitude to the Spotlight Initiative, UNDP Belize, Knight and Day Studios, the Belize City Shadow Council Members, the Belize City and Cayo Child Advisory Body for their support and collaboration on this project.

Watch the video here.

2021 was a landmark year for the ANIRA Foundation’s work on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

In 2021, the Guyana-based Anira Foundation (AF) continued to achieve its objectives despite the challenges encountered during the second year of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

With the support of Gilead Sciences Inc., in collaboration with the Spouses of CARICOM Leaders Action Network (SCLAN), the Foundation implemented a project aimed to reduce HIV infections and increase young people’s knowledge about Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).

Speaking with the editor of the PANCAP Newsletter, Ms Sandra Granger, Founder and Chair, Former First Lady, Cooperative Republic of Guyana and PANCAP Champion, stated that she was proud of the work done to advance education on SRHR among young Guyanese.

The first phase was implemented in Sophia, Region 4 (Demerara/Mahaica).  The project team identified and engaged community leaders during several meetings and consultations to effectively conduct Training Workshops and mobilised members of the Sophia community to be trained as mentors.

The Project Team also planned and conducted, with trained facilitators, two Mentors’ Training Workshops.  In addition, they conducted follow-up work with peer educators and mentors in community-based awareness activities on SRHR and Gender-based Violence (GBV) so that they could make informed decisions about their health and the need to advocate for SRH services.  The team also commenced a Community Mapping activity of the area.

In addition, tools and documents were developed for the project, including a Code of Conduct and an Agreement for the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA).  These were designed and finalised following consultation with workshop participants.  The tools will be utilised throughout the project.

The Chair indicated that plans are progressing to continue the project in 2022 and reiterated the Foundation’s vision to educate and empower the most vulnerable sectors of our society.

Study published on “Attitudes Toward Transgender People Among Future Caribbean Doctors”

Dr Mike Campbell, Senior Lecturer in Behavioural Science/Psychology, Chair, HIV and AIDS Response Programme, University of the West Indies–Cave Hill and member of the PANCAP Knowledge Management Working Group (PKMWG), in collaboration with a team of researchers, published a study examing the attitudes of medical students toward transgender people and the critical implications for the future quality of healthcare for Caribbean transgender patients.

The research also considered implications for developing transgender curricula in Caribbean medical education.

The methodology involved medical students enrolled at a publicly supported Caribbean university completing the Transgender Attitudes and Beliefs Scale (TABS; Kanamori et al., 2017).

The study is particularly pivotal for regional stakeholders in the STI and HIV response as few studies of attitudes toward transgender people among health professionals or students exist in the Caribbean.

The research recommended that effective transgender curriculum content needed to be built from the ethics of respect for persons to include more targeted coverage of evidence-based knowledge, both clinical and sociocultural, of transgender issues. Further, the authors suggested an effective curriculum should consist of an experiential component to help medical students work with greater levels of comfort when treating transgender patients. Medical educators (e.g., Noonan et al.,2018) have emphasized the growing necessity of transgender-specific curricula, and the findings suggest that increasing personal comfort among medical students should be a part of such curricula in the Caribbean.

The study is available on PANCAP.org; click here to access.

SASOD Research examines attitudes towards PrEP among Key Populations

As more territories within the Region establish sites offering Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), access to data on key populations’ perceptions about PrEP is crucial.  This was the motivation behind the PrEP research conducted by the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD).

The research team consisted of Mr Joel Simpson, Managing Director, SASOD Guyana and Dr Nastassia Rambarran, researcher and public health consultant.

The study is a qualitative assessment of the current knowledge, attitudes and preferences concerning PrEP among Men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women in Guyana.

The methodology involved conducting focus groups with HIV-negative MSM and trans women over 18 years, residing in Administrative Regions Three (3), Four (4), Five (5), Six (6) and Ten (10).

The research revealed that 60% of the participants had never heard of PrEP; further, the research team discovered that among participants who had some PrEP knowledge, there was confusion about PrEP and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

The study’s results offer excellent insight into the critical need for PrEP education among key populations and provide a wealth of knowledge for the PrEP awareness and community health promotion required for Guyana’s PrEP pilot.

The research is available on PANCAP.org; click here to access.

PAHO Docu-story highlights EMTCT Progress

In December 2021, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) launched a video docu-story on the Region’s experience with eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and Syphilis (EMTCT).

The EMTCT docu-story outlined the factors that have contributed to the Caribbean becoming the first Region in the world to advance to the dual elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and Syphilis.  It briefly summarizes how the Ministry of Health, Bahamas was able to transfer knowledge and experience for EMTCT to other Caribbean countries,  allowing for the standardization of the primary prevention and treatment interventions in all Maternal and Child Health services, which had already incorporated Prevention of Syphilis for pregnant women.

The docu-story can be viewed on the PANCAP YouTube Channel: https://youtu.be/aFtlRsKgVrs

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.