Local NGOs Increasing HIV Testing and Counseling to Most-at-Risk Populations in Honduras
While the HIV prevalence rate in Honduras is low, estimated at 0.68%, rates for the most-at-risk populations (MARPs)—men-who-have-sex-with-men, transgender and transvestites, Garífunas (an ethnic population), and female sex workers—are significantly higher, estimated between 4 and 10%. For MARPs, voluntary testing and counseling is particularly important, and it is local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that are providing services at the frontlines.
The MSH-led AIDSTAR-Two project is working with six Honduran NGOs to increase the availability of community-based rapid HIV testing and counseling for most-at-risk populations.
For the NGO Programa para el Desarrollo de la Infancia y la Mujer (Program for the Development of Children and Women, or PRODIM in Spanish), based in Tegucigalpa, this assistance has come at a time of great need.
“PRODIM’s experience with rapid HIV testing began in 2006, when two people from our technical team were trained by the Ministry of Health,” says Dr. Javier Calix, the NGO’s project manager. “This enabled us to use the rapid test tool to prevent HIV among sex workers. But we are seeing more of a demand for this service, and we needed to increase the number of tests we can perform.” Rapid testing to detect the antibody to HIV is a screening test that produces very quick results—usually under 30 minutes—and does not require additional equipment or supplies, allowing testing to be done in all types of settings, not just health care facilities.
Through a small grants program, the AIDSTAR-Two program in Honduras has been providing funds, training, and technical assistance to support PRODIM and other local NGOs in the delivery of core prevention and care services. For PRODIM, this assistance is the means to provide improved services as well as to increase the number of female sex workers who are tested.
“We know that sometimes clients are forced by customers into situations of unprotected sex, and they are particularly vulnerable due to their limited income and their economic needs,” says Dr. Calix. “With AIDSTAR-Two, we have been able to initiate activities to attract this population, such as craft workshops where they can learn income-generating skills. These activities are always accompanied by an educational component, which is linked to HIV & AIDS prevention.”
PRODIM facilitator Leonel Cruz explains the importance of the educational seminars.
“These seminars basically raise awareness about a person’s risk, and we include information about the test to encourage our clients to take it. We explain that it is confidential, and free, and fast, and this helps motivate them to act. We are now making an average of 100 to 120 tests a month.”
In a four-month period, AIDSTAR-Two grantees including PRODIM have counseled and tested more than 3,300 individuals. Leonel Cruz is sure that this outreach is saving lives.
“Studies show that this population and other at-risk groups within Honduras are reducing their prevalence through routine methods such as voluntary counseling and testing,” he says. “AIDSTAR-Two is helping us strengthen our capacities so that we can have a greater impact on the population.”
AIDSTAR-Two offers proven strategies for magnifying the impact of HIV & AIDS programs, delivering organizational capacity-building with an emphasis on management, leadership, governance, and overall organizational development. The AIDSTAR-Two Consortium is composed of MSH; International HIV/AIDS Alliance; Cardno Emerging Markets; Health and Development Africa; Initiatives, Inc.; Save the Children; and Religions for Peace.