Empowerment workshops for Jamaican men who have sex with men (MSM) achieve close to 100% participation in VCT
National HIV/STI Programme Ministry of Health, Jamaica, Kingston, Jamaica
Issues: Statistics from VCT in Jamaica consistently reveal a stark disparity between males and females who access this key HIV prevention activity. “Men are afraid of needles”, it has been said, coupled with the fact that the average male typically displays poor health seeking habits. These factors as well as the issue of stigma and discrimination have made access to VCT with the MSM population particularly challenging. However, VCT for that group must be given priority as surveys of the MSM community revealed an HIV prevalence rate of 31%.
Description: The National HIV/STI programme in the Ministry of Health hosts a series of fifteen empowerment workshops to provide a safe space for MSM as well as offer VCT. Participants are introduced to the reality of HIV/AIDS, HIV prevalence in their community and the benefits of knowing one's HIV status. A unique approach to VCT is employed in the workshops. Pre-test counselling is provided and then blood samples are tested for HIV at a public health lab. Each participant is given a distinctive identifier so his name is not linked to the sample. The results are provided by a private doctor of the client's choice. The intervention achieved close to 100% participation in VCT.
Lessons learned: Successful interventions with the MSM community do not necessarily have to be spearheaded by members of that population. The staff chosen to interact with the population must be sensitive to the issues that are unique to the group. Anonymous HIV testing in an environment with stigmatization of MSM can increase uptake of services
Next steps: VCT for the MSM community in Jamaica needs to be scaled up as the HIV prevalence rate in that population is high. Empowerment workshops with VCT need to be rolled out with a sense of urgency to the MSM community
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