Editor’s note: 

In June 2018, PANCAP collaborated with the Integral Orientation and Research Center/ Centro de Orientación e Investigación Integral (COIN) for a face-to-face knowledge exchange in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  The objective of the knowledge exchange event was to provide participants with first-hand experience of COIN’s operations.  Nine persons from three countries, Jamaica, Suriname and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, were involved in the learning exchange event.  Participants were invited to share their experiences observing COIN’s collaboration with the Ministry of Health, other civil society organizations and stakeholders in delivering comprehensive HIV services in communities and to key populations.   The blog below from the Surinamese participants provides details of their experience. 

During the June 2018 South-to-South Learning Exchange, organized by the PANCAP-Knowledge for Health project in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, we were part of a multidisciplinary team which visited various organizations, both public and private, that work together in the fight against HIV and AIDS. The keyword from this entire experience is collaboration.

The Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Health and Social Assistance coordinates the HIV response through its partners. Integral to that response is the involvement of all necessary stakeholders, including representatives of key populations, for achieving the goals and ensuring sustainability.

The national strategic plan, protocols for treating HIV, laws for reduction of stigma and discrimination against vulnerable groups, and training of healthcare workers are among the activities of this strategic alignment.

Integral Orientation and Research Center/ Centro de Orientación e Investigación Integral (COIN), the focus of the learning exchange, is a non-governmental organization (NGO) which focuses on treatment and reduction of HIV in the country. As a non-profit organization, COIN is a very good example of how an NGO with powerful leadership can work together with the Ministry of Health and other NGOs to reach their goals.

Civil society groups in the Dominican Republic should be recognized for being well organized, as they have formed strategic alliances with both the Government and the private sector. Civil society underscored the importance of staying true to their respective missions as this has made them stronger and more articulate in voicing the needs of the most vulnerable populations. Civil society groups also provide leadership to advocacy campaigns to establish clear guidelines for health professionals to ensure a rights-based approach to HIV treatment for key populations.

COIN is one of the NGOs that work closely with the Ministry of Health in the Dominican Republic. Through COIN, other smaller organizations such as TRANSSA, Trans Siempre Amigas (Trans Always Friends) and MOSCTHA, Movimiento Socio-Cultural para los Trabajadores Haitianos (Socio-Cultural Movement for Haitian Workers) receive funding to reach and test key populations and to link the HIV-positive persons from their target groups to treatment. TRANSSA and MOSCTHA also refer people to COIN for services they do not provide, such as hormone replacement therapy and antiretroviral therapy.

In conclusion, leadership, political activism, collaboration, and commitment were common themes heard during the learning exchange and should be considered prerequisites to achieving the sustainability of efforts to end AIDS.