PANCAP facilitated a South-South Learning Exchange in the Dominican Republic in February 2020.  With a history of success with two previous events, six OECS countries were selected to be part of this sharing of best practices and Saint Lucia is grateful to have been a willing participant in this exercise.

When I learnt about the learning exchange, I did not know what to expect.  The Integral Orientation and Research Center/Centro de Orientación e Investigación Integral (COIN) welcomed all twelve of us into their safe space for a week and the Executive Director of COIN, Santo Rosario, paved the way for us to visit many places.

We visited the Ministry of Health and met the Coordinator-General of the HIV and AIDS programme, Dr Luis Ernesto Feliz-Báez.  Dr Jose Ledesma, enthusiastically described the successes of their PrEP trial.  The visit to the National Council against HIV and AIDS (CONAVIHSIDA) was very illuminating.  It provided insight into the composition of the Council and how it works with representative member ministries as well as non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

COIN informed us about their programmes and activities as well as the linkages they have with other governmental agencies, non-governmental organisations and civil society.  We visited TRANSSA (Trans Siempre Amiga), CVC (Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition), IDEV (Institute of Virological Studies) and REDOVIH (the network of People Living with HIV – PLHIV).  We had access to a wealth of information that highlighted best practices in the Dominican Republic.  It also highlighted areas where there is much work to be done.

I was very impressed with the variety of services offered at both COIN and IDEV and the fact that they can refer clients to other agencies when necessary.  TRANSSA, CVC, COIN and CONAVIHSIDA all highlighted incidents of stigma and discrimination involving PLHIV and LGBTQI persons.  Also, there are many unsolved homicides of transwomen and there is a need to address the basic needs and education of approximately 700 youth who are in detention centers.

My experience has energised me to address some issues within my programme. I hope that the programme will be able to establish a relationship with sex workers.  They are a “hidden” population in Saint Lucia.  This task must be accomplished in conjunction with the island’s only LGBTQI organisation, “United and Strong Inc.”  There has to be a Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) sensitisation exercise before there can be a decision on a trial roll-out of PrEP.

I would like to thank PANCAP for the opportunity to have been a participant in this exercise.  I am grateful for the warm welcomes extended to all of us by all the institutions we visited, as well as the willingness to speak freely about their organisations and the work that they do.  Thank you to Timothy and Shanti for your support throughout the trip.  Thank you to my colleagues for having made the experience memorable and enjoyable.

A special thank you to Santo Rosario and Vanessa Rosario and all the COIN staff who opened their space to us and made us all feel very welcome.