HIV project to focus on youth in difficult circumstances
Stabroek News
July 10, 2004

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Groups of young people in ten communities across four regions will benefit from a US$450,000 HIV/AIDS prevention project which will focus on youths living in difficult circumstances.

The Ministry of Health and the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) signed the agreement in the ministry's boardroom yesterday, funding for which has been secured from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Fund.

According to the health ministry's Adolescent Health Promotion Coordinator, Lucy Anderson the project targets youths facing difficult circumstances and the criteria used to select the communities included high youth population densities, high prevalence of HIV/AIDS and a high percentage of youth in high-risk groups. These groups include men having sex with men, commercial sex workers and migrants. It will also cater for young girls working in restaurants and night clubs; young people involved in sports; youths attached to faith-based organisations; pregnant teenagers; adolescent fathers and youth living in poor communities with a reported high prevalence of HIV/AIDS or with high unemployment and high crime rates.

The communities targeted are: Parika in Region Three (Essequibo Islands/West Demerara), Beterverwatging/ Triumph, Sophia and Lodge in Region Four (Demerara/ Mahaica), Fyrish Village, Port Mourant, Mibicuri and Angoy's Avenue in Region Six (East Berbice/Corentyne), Mahdia in Region Eight (Potaro/Siparuni) and Linden in Region Ten (Upper Demerara/Upper Berbice).

Anderson said the project will be executed by the health ministry and a steering committee which will be chaired by the health ministry's permanent secretary and includes representatives from the Ministries of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Labour, Human Services and Social Security and Home Affairs.

Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy said the project has been in the pipeline for almost three years. He said there is a similar project in existence and this new one will serve as a continuation.

Ramsammy said they are now in the process of hiring a coordinator for the project, adding that the advertisement has attracted some 19 applicants.

The minister noted that Guyana is receiving a lot of funding to deal with HIV/AIDS and questioned whether the country had the capacity to utilise the money. He admitted that it will be a serious challenge and as a consequence technical people would have to be recruited to help.

According to the minister if Guyana is going to respond properly to the fight then it must be innovative and must go "outside of the box" in hiring technical people.

While it is the practice to hire people with experience, the minister questioned how they could gain experience if they are not given the opportunity, stating, "We have to open up the doors." Dr Ramsammy said there is talk about empowering young people and yet doors are closed in the faces of those same persons and he suggested that at some point the process should be re-examined. He revealed that eight site coordinators were to be hired and expressed the hope that they will be from the targeted areas.

UNFPA's Representative in the English and Dutch-speaking Caribbean, Hetty Sarjeant said the organisation in collaboration with the OPEC Fund has secured US$3.2 million for the implementation of projects specifically geared towards HIV/AIDS prevention among youth in selected Latin American and Caribbean countries. Other beneficiaries are Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and St Lucia.

She explained that the project will support Guyana's National Strategic Plan for HIV/AIDS and will be systematising and analysing data and information on HIV/AIDS and youth that will be used to plan cost-effective strategies and interventions and also to develop an effective monitoring and evaluation plan.

According to Sarjeant one of the components of the project is that it will respond to the high unemployment rate among youth by providing opportunities for remedial education, skills training, the development of life skills and prospects for employment. It will also provide information, education and services for HIV/AIDS prevention.

She said Guyana was selected as a beneficiary because of its demographic and reproductive health characteristics.