Approximately 1.1% of the adult population in Suriname is living with HIV, and AIDS is the sixth cause of death in the country. The United Nations is supporting the Government in preventing the spread of the virus and assisting people living with HIV. PAHO/WHO, UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF and UNDP are working together to provide a multi-sectoral response to the HIV epidemic.
Rachel Eersel, Paula Hidalgo-Sanchís, Ingrid Caffe, Claudine Hammen and Ksenia Glebova, from PAHO, UNDP, UNFPA and UNICEF respectively, under the leadership of Gerry Eijkemans, PAHO/WHO representative, are the members of the UN group that focuses its attention on HIV/AIDS related issues. Through this group, the UN supports the national response to the spread of the virus, focusing its attention on the following key strategic areas: eliminating mother to child transmission of HIV, supporting NGOs that work with the most at risk populations, raising awareness of HIV, and reducing the stigma and the discrimination of the people living with the virus.
Elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV
In November 2009, the Regional Initiative for the Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV and Congenital Syphilis was launched in Latin America and the Caribbean. Suriname has supported this initiative and has officially launched this national with the commitment to have ‘healthy mothers, healthy babies and a healthy population’. “It is feasible to reach the target set for elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV and PAHO Suriname has given technical cooperation to Suriname towards reaching this target,” says PAHO Public Advisor on HIV/AIDS, Rachel Eersel, “we have given support in the set up and development of early infant diagnosis guidelines, development of preventing mother to child transmission guidelines, and exchange visits on this area between countries”.
Support to NGOs that work with the most at risk populations
In general terms, the populations most at risk are groups of people who more frequently engage in behaviours that lead to HIV transmission. These behaviours include unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners, and use of the same piercing or injecting equipment. Such populations include men who have sex with men, female sex workers and their clients, and injecting drug users.
NGOs and community based organizations in Suriname play an important role on the fight against HIV/AIDS, especially with the most at risk populations. These bodies are sources of information and have an important role in preventing the spread of the virus, care and support for men and women. In light of this, the UN has supported the key NGOs working in the field of HIV/AIDS with most at risk populations by providing training in project management, and results-based monitoring and evaluation to enhance their technical capacity. “The most important focus this year will be on capacity building, in order to help increase the quantitative and qualitative input of these groups in the national response,” says Ingrid Caffe, UNFPA HIV/AIDS officer. Paula Hidalgo-Sanchís, UNDP’s Poverty and Social Development Specialist, highlights the importance of this area of work for the UNDP, “we are committed to working with the Government and civil society to strengthen capacities to promote the rights of the most at risk populations.”
Raising awareness of HIV transmission
Together with preventing mother to child transmission, raising awareness of the ways the virus can be transmitted is essential in stopping the spread of HIV. Ksenia Glebova, UNICEF HIV/AIDS officer, explains why: "Raising awareness on HIV is crucial as it strengthens all strategies across the board be it prevention, treatment, or reduction in stigma and discrimination.”
In Suriname, data on comprehensive knowledge of HIV transmission among women of reproductive age show that great disparities exist in the levels of awareness between the coastal and interior areas, where 43% and 17% of women have comprehensive knowledge.
“Introducing HIV prevention into the national curriculum as part of Basic Life Skills is therefore a top priority and one of many means of awareness raising” says Glebova, “and UNICEF, as a part of the UN system, is working to incorporate that in the curriculum.”
In raising awareness of HIV transmission the UN agencies in Suriname, under the leadership of UNAIDS, promote different activities such as the ones developed on the World AIDS Day, to make people aware that we can all stop the spread of the virus.
Henck Arronstraat 60, Paramaribo, Suriname