18,000 Guyanese infected with HIV virus
Ranks second highest in Latin America By Andrew Richards
Kaieteur News
July 14, 2004

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The Washington-based Population Services Incorporated (PSI) has estimated that some 18,000 Guyanese are infected with the HIV virus out of an adult population of 432,000.

According to PSI, Guyana has the second highest HIV rate in Latin America and the Caribbean, at 2.7% of the adult population, and is one of only five countries in Latin America with a generalised epidemic.

PSI found that sex with multiple partners in Guyana is socially accepted and risky behaviour is widespread, particularly among young people.

In one recent survey, 66% of youth who already had sex had unprotected sex the first time.

And while 91% stated that they had used a condom at least once, less than 60% reported having used a condom the last time they had sex.

Despite such risky behaviour, less than 20% of the youths perceived themselves to be at great risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS, while most felt that they were not at all at risk.

PSI noted that, as elsewhere in the Caribbean, the Guyanese population experiences a high level of migration.

It also noted that sex between men might be common though hidden, with many outwardly ‘straight’ men in union with women but still having relations with other men.

Deputy Director of PSI, Nazim Hussain, told Kaieteur News yesterday that the United States have implemented partners in the form of local Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) in Guyana who work in various aspects on HIV/AIDS.

Among them are Lifeline Counseling Services, Linden Care Foundation, Artistes In Direct Support, Hope Foundation, Comforting Hearts, Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association, Volunteer Youth Corps, G+ and Youth Challenge Guyana.

Hussain said these NGOs work in areas such as counseling, awareness, behaviour change communication and testing.

He stated that peer educators from PSI go out into the fields to do work in areas like Essequibo Coast, Linden, Bartica, New Amsterdam and East Coast Demerara.

Hussain said PSI has embarked on a condom social marketing project in Guyana that will last for over a period of three years.

The project is designed to increase safer sexual activity among high-risk groups by improving accurate self-risk perception and effective risk management, and ensuring widespread access to affordable condoms throughout the country.

Ultimately, PSI seeks to create a condom culture whereby condom use is the norm in all sexual activity, with the exception of monogamous relationships in which both partners are free of infection.

The project’s aim is to reach all sexually active persons in Guyana. However, it will place particular emphasis on those in the 15-24 years age group who are at the greatest risk of HIV infection and others deemed to be at high risk.

PSI estimates that some three million condoms are distributed or sold in Guyana each year and of these, 1.7 million are available from 7,000 private outlets.

Retail prices for condoms in the private sector are about $200 for a packet of three.

PSI said these prices are likely too high for regular use by young people, who constitute the primary target audience for a condom social marketing intervention.

The organisation found that condoms are often not displayed clearly in sales outlets and in many cases potential consumers may not be aware of their availability at the outlet.

PSI stated that little mass media communication exists and to date the majority of such activities were done to raise awareness as opposed to change in behaviour.