…as plans apace to expand health care services
The notion that Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have been particularly instrumental in helping to tackle
the spread of HIV/AIDS was yesterday emphasised by Executive Director of Youth Challenge Guyana (YCG), Mr Dmitri Nicholson.
Nicholson, during an interview with this publication, pointed out that while Government through the Ministry of Health has been working tirelessly in this regard by making available needed services, NGOs have however been able to make an immense impact at the level of the communities.
“We have seen that NGOs are able to reach people in places where Government may not be able to, and at times that Government may not be able to as well,” the Executive Director said.
He further informed too that “there have been places that we have gone where people tell us that it is only Youth Challenge that comes to this particular location to do (HIV) testing for instance.”
And according to him, achieving a zero level of transmission is certainly within reach as “we have had fewer reported cases in HIV prevention among the population that we have targeted for testing and that for us is an indicator that there is already some degree of change.”
This development is coupled with the fact that there have been more people who have been accessing measures, such as condoms, to safeguard themselves.
But although funding for the HIV/AIDS fight has been in place for many years, there has been a very noticeable reversal of this funding trend. And the dwindling donor funds, Nicholson said, could very well undermine the efforts plugged into the fight against HIV.
“Our fear is that the gains that we have had with more resources could be lost with fewer resources.”
But there is a solution to the problem, Nicholson noted, as he revealed that already efforts are being made to solicit support from the business sector.
The business sector is particularly being targeted as, according to the Executive Director, it is more likely to be severely impacted if the virus is not controlled. This is in light of the fact that HIV has over the years been mostly affecting the productive faction of the population.
“We would like the private sector to become more involved at the local level, because NGOs are not able to sustain some of the work that we do, because it is heavily dependent on external resources (global). If more local organisations are able to support what NGOs are doing it creates greater avenues for you to be able to diversify the types of things that you can offer,” Nicholson said.
And the need for diversification is important, as according to him, people are no longer looking to only be tested for HIV but rather, they desire more.
“People don’t want to keep hearing about HIV alone anymore, so they would like to know what new things that you are offering.” This is the basis on which YCG has decided to expand its services.
“Even though our programme focuses on HIV, Youth Challenge Guyana tries to maintain optimal health through our health programme, and not just talking about HIV.”
Even as YCG anticipates support from the local business sector, Nicholson pointed out that through its Advancing Partners and Communities Project, which is funded by USAID, efforts will from next year be made to offer additional services. These, he disclosed, will be offered in collaboration with the Regional Health Services and will include blood pressure testing, information sharing on nutrition, and tropical diseases that are in the Region.
However, he noted that YCG will seek to sustain its HIV programme with a view of emphasising the need for behavioural changes to ensure that people do not put themselves at risk for contracting the disease.
“Some people feel that because they got a (HIV) test one time and it was negative they can have risky behaviours because they think they are invincible or something,” Nicholson emphasised.
Formerly, the YCG HIV programme catered mainly to the population of Region One that is most at risk of contracting HIV – miners and commercial sex workers. This has seen focus being directed to testing, distribution of condoms, and education about HIV prevention, to the target population.
The HIV programme is one that has been in place for the past 14 years, but according to Nicholson, the past year saw an increased number of persons seeking to be tested. Additionally, he informed that there have been reports of greater consistency in the number of sex workers using condoms during their sexual encounters, while more miners have been asking for YCG field officers to visit their sites to conduct Voluntary Counselling and Testing activities. Even residents of the area have been taking advantage of the service offered by YCG, Nicholson said.
“I think that we have been effective because we are finding fewer people who are showing up as HIV-positive, and our referral services for persons living with HIV have also been 80 per cent effective, where most of the clients have actually accessed HIV health care services if they are living with HIV,” said Nicholson.
According to him, too, one key feature of YCG’s efforts is that sex workers are able to communicate with social workers on an ongoing basis.
YCG, through its outreach effort, has also been able to help emphasise the need for human rights and stigma and discrimination issues to be addressed at hospitals and health centres in the Region. This has resulted in persons visiting the health facilities there claiming that they are friendlier.
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