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Guyana’s investment in HIV/AIDS battle paying off- NAPS Director

Participants at the training workshop targeting Health Care Workers on diversity and sensitivity training aimed at controlling the HIV/AIDS epidemic and achieving sustainable response (GINA photo)

Guyana’s prevalence rate of HIV has increased but that now indicates that more people are living rather than dying of the disease due to aggressive public education and greater access to treatment and care, Head of the National AIDS Programme Secretariat, Dr. Shanti Singh said.

Singh said latest research shows that the prevalence rate is 1.4 percent or 7,700 persons living with the disease. She said the figure “is a bit higher” than last year’s 1.2 percent. “Less people are dying so more people are living longer with the disease and the treatment programme is growing and so the pool of people living with the disease in the treatment programme is getting bigger but you are having less infections,” she told Demerara Waves Online News.

The NAPS official recalled that in the early days of the epidemic there was a high prevalence rate of the disease in the population. In the 1980s, there was as much as seven percent prevalence at pilot Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMCT) sites.

She said efforts were underway to update the statistics on miners and loggers because existing data on miners only date back to 2002.  Singh said data collected for those two categories of mainly interior workers were currently being analysed and should be available before year-end. The Biological and Behavioural Surveillance Survey (BBSS) also captures data about Sex Workers and male homosexuals.

The NAPS official expects that based on trends the prevalence rate for gays and sex workers to further decline. In 2004, the rate was 24.4 percent for homosexuals and 21 percent for sex workers. Those figures have since declined in 2009 to 21 percent for homosexuals and 16.6 percent for sex workers.

She credited the declining prevalence to more evidence-based intervention and resources as well as the involvement of vulnerable populations in fighting the disease. At the same time, she said there were gaps in seeking testing, care and treatment for Sexually Transmitted Infections and HIV.

While Men-who-have-Sex-with-Men (MSMs or male homosexuals) are a given lifestyle, Dr. Singh said the study would seek to determine how long sex workers remain in that occupation with the aim of crafting strategies for ongoing public education, testing, treatment and care. “You have, for example, in the sex worker population new persons coming in while the older persons may exit into the sex worker arena so there has to be this continuous education and reaching them with HIV and STI prevention services, testing and screening programmes,” she added.

The NAPS Director said that unlike 15 to 20 years ago when there was suspicion about trust and confidentiality, she said the vulnerable or key populations were more willing, open and interactive about various aspects of the battle against HIV.

NAPS was one of several stakeholders that participated in a September 9 to 10 training session on “Controlling he Epidemic and Achieving a Sustainable Response: Diversity and Sensitivity.”

The training session focused on HIV and HIV prevention and response for those at high risk, the Health Care Provider and those at risk, Characteristics of an effective health care provider and others who work with those at high risk, Getting to know your clients and Conducting risk assessments.

The workshop was facilitated by experts from the United States Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and the Ministry of Health.