Guyana Govít to develop support programmes for HIV/AIDS high-risk groups
By GINA News Dec 15, 2006, 15:12 UTC

GEORGETOWN (GINA) - The Ministry of Health will strengthen its HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment programme to target male and female commercial and other sex workers who are considered high risk groups in society.

This initiative was prompted by a recent study on the perception and behaviour of HIV/AIDS prevention and care among Female Sex Workers (FSW) and Men who have Sex with Men (MSM).A draft of the study was presented today at the Tower Hotel by consultant Julia Terborg of Suriname.

The study, conducted in Georgetown, is a partnership initiative of the Ministry of Health, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the Canadian Society for International Health (CSIH).

The study enabled the development of knowledge on sexual preferences among FSWs and MSM and will help government to design appropriate responses.

It will also enhance the already existing HIV/AIDS programmes in Guyana and change the lifestyle among the vulnerable population.

Minister of Health Dr. Leslie Ramsammy noted that prevention care and treatment programme must be accelerated if it is to address the high prevalence of sex workers in society.

The Minister is confident that this will be achieved particularly with research initiatives which constitute a scientific guide for the development of prevention and care programmes.

Qualitative and quantitative studies have over the years become an important element of understanding the societal issues in Guyana and the wider Caribbean

In a 1997 study in Guyana, a 48 percent HIV/AIDS prevalence rate among commercial sex workers was discovered, while in a 2004 study supported by the Presidentís Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a 25 percent prevalence rate was shown. More than 100 female sex workers and 60 male homosexuals in Georgetown were selected and interviewed by trained social health and peer educators during this study.

It was discovered that among the female sex workers, 16 percent contracted sexually transmitted infections (STIs), while others were abused by clients and underwent pregnancies and abortions.

Although the study revealed that over 90 percent of female sex workers use condoms when with their clients, an HIV/AIDS prevalent rate among this group was 27 percent while among the MSM it was 21%.

Stigma and discrimination, one of the major challenges in the fight against HIV/AIDS, was identified as a major source of marginalisation and denial of access to care and treatment among this group. Minister Ramsammy however assured that laws will soon be in place to reinforce the undesirability of stigma and discrimination.

Earlier in the month, Minister Ramsammy signaled his intentions to table a new anti-stigma and discrimination bill in the National Assembly.