To address HIV service provision gaps and barriers to prevention, care and treatment due to COVID-19, the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS) Guyana, with support from the Caribbean Regional Network of People Living with HIV (CRN+), facilitated a government and civil society stakeholder forum on 30 March 2021.
The Forum focused on innovative ways through which civil society organisations (CSOs) in Guyana can meet these urgent needs. With thirteen (13) representatives from government and civil society, the session provided an opportunity for the NAPS to explore alternative models of interventions for supporting People Living with HIV (PLHIV) during COVID-19. Participants described specific information on structuring monthly support groups in smaller numbers, piloting a reservation platform for PLHIV to make appointments and seeking ways to connect PLHIV with social protection schemes.
The facilitator, Dr Minerva Pinelo of Right Insights, shared examples of alternative models of interventions rolled out in Belize and drew from case studies from Zambia and New Guinea. The session’s format was instructional, allowing participants to learn more about alternative models such as adherence clubs, community antiretroviral therapy distribution points, community antiretroviral therapy groups, appointment spacing and fast-tracking for antiretroviral therapy refills.
The session allowed for discussion on various specific examples of interventions that have supported PLHIV’s adherence and quality of life. Questions, queries, and comments shared indicated a mutual interest in addressing the prevalence of HIV in Guyana and the commitment to scaling up alternative models of interventions for PLHIV to address service provision gaps exacerbated by the pandemic.
CSOs reported innovative ways to garner support for PLHIV and overcome present challenges. For example, Ms Desiree Edghill, Executive Director of Artiste In Direct Support (AIDS), reported that their peer support group was reduced to two persons to comply with COVID-19 safety recommendations for avoiding large groups. In addition, the CSO, along with another organisation, piloted the use of “Quick Res” for booking appointments for consultations or accessing sexual health services. By booking appointments, PLHIV are less exposed to waiting in crowded lobbies for HIV testing services, STI testing services, medication refills or other sexual reproductive health services.
There was significant enthusiasm from Dr Tariq Jagnarine, National AIDS Programme Manager – Guyana and at least two CSOs that reported opportunities for scaling up existing alternative models of interventions as a country. It was clear that while challenges such as stigma and discrimination and socio-economic hardships have deterred PLHIV from remaining adherent during the pandemic, CSOs must continue to address service provision gaps.
Participants were receptive to drawing from best practices and emerging trends presented during the Forum, including integrating technology, where possible to achieve a wider reach of PLHIV throughout all regions in Guyana.