Jamaica Red Cross: a pioneer in HIV/AIDS programmes in the Caribbean

تم النشر: 23 نوفمبر 2009 0:00 CET

Gennike Mayers, IFRC

When the first case of HIV/AIDS in Jamaica was diagnosed in 1982, the Jamaica Red Cross (JRC) was invited by the Ministry of Health to take part in what would become the National AIDS Committee. As founding members of that committee, the JRC provided assistance to the increasing number of individuals diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and collaborated on the determination of effective strategies to address the pandemic.

In those early days, stigma and discrimination were high and knowledge about the syndrome was low. It is against this backdrop that the novel concept of the ‘Safe Place’ was developed by the Jamaica Red Cross.

“People living with HIV didn’t readily reveal their status so we needed a place where they would be comfortable, where they could get away from the constant reference to HIV and pressure to disclose,” says Lois Hue, deputy director general, senior director youth and HIV/STI programmes of the Jamaica Red Cross.

The space is considered safe because people go to the Red Cross for a myriad of reasons, and it is therefore unlikely that people would be aware of the nature of a client’s business with the Red Cross.

First helpline

In the early 1990s, JRC was involved in the very first HIV helpline by providing volunteers to answer calls from those in need. They also worked closely with the University of the West Indies which had developed the ‘Family Centre’ founded by Dr. Patricia Burke for persons recently diagnosed with HIV and who might also have had children born with the virus.

Subsequently, JRC once again broke new ground when it developed its home-based care programme, which allowed persons living with HIV to receive treatment at home. The National Society was also able to support families with seed funding to develop home based businesses, and provided food packages to families in need.

As JRC’s national programme director for HIV, Marvin Gunther, points out: “Medication is free but many persons cannot afford basic food and they need to eat in order to take the medication.” To date, nearly 200 people have been helped by the home-based care programme.

The JRC also runs an anti-stigma and discrimination programme. Through this programme, persons living with HIV meet with community members and share their personal stories. The people living with HIV provide information, skills and seek to encourage attitude adjustment among the persons they target.

There is also a Voluntary Counselling and Testing programme (VCT). Jamaica Red Cross was the first institution in Jamaica to offer the ORA-QUICK rapid test which uses a saliva sample rather than a blood sample to test for HIV. These tests are conducted by JRC volunteers aged 25 to 40 who are trained to go out into the communities and encourage people to get tested.

“Together we can”

One outstanding example of JRC’s pioneering work has been the ‘Together We Can’ (TWC) programme. This began as a research project that sought to test the effectiveness of peer education in preventing HIV infection among young persons in Jamaica. Based on the results of that preliminary research, a second project focussed on the development of an island-wide HIV/STD prevention programme and materials.

It was not long before this home grown Jamaican peer education programme outgrew its own borders.

According to Gunter, “TWC is the programme of choice for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and it’s being used by all the Caribbean territories including Haiti and Dominican Republic. It is also being used in Latin America. The programme has been translated into five languages and has been widely disseminated even as far as Tanzania.”

From the start of the TWC programme in 1993 until the end of 2008, the JRC trained 561 adult facilitators who in turn assisted in training 6,800 peer educators who have reached 59,473 peers.