Barber shops and beauty salons in Guyana’s capital are taking part in a United Nations project to spread crucial information about HIV prevention in the small nation, which has one of the highest prevalence rates in its region.
The UN Population Fund (http://www.unfpa.org/public/News/pid/2128>UNFPA) project seeks to provide some 2,000 young people access to information, skills, services and supplies they can use to protect their health.
It involves training staff of shops in Georgetown to answer simple HIV-related questions, pass out informational material, dispense both male and female condoms to clients – and even provide on-site counselling and testing.
Currently, over 7,000 male and 400 female condoms are distributed monthly by requests in the shops and salons.
With a population of just over 751,000, Guyana has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the region. According to the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the prevalence rate is about 1.6 per cent for pregnant women and 26.6 per cent among sex workers, and AIDS is currently the leading cause of death among the 20-49 age group.
UNFPA chose the participating shops and salons based on their location in malls, parks, popular attractions, or low-income communities, and owners received added marketing exposure for their small businesses and are provided with incentives, such as access to promotional materials.
“Shops were informed how their companies would be promoted through the project, and the economic value of participating,” said UNFPA Guyana Liaison Officer, Patrice La Fleur “They would most importantly provide safe places to discuss sexuality and the prevention of HIV.”
Once the shops were chosen, two employees from each shop were sent for training on basic HIV and AIDS education and prevention means. They were also taught to properly monitor the project and introduced to safe practices within the context of their own work, such as ensuring the sterility of hair cutting machines, razors, needles for stitching and weaving, manicure and pedicure implements, and tattooing and body piercing equipment.
In addition to training participants about sexual and reproductive health and gender issues, the project also focuses on building life skills such as communication, healthy relationships, and leadership.
“Participants expressed personal gains in their quality of relationships with friends, family, and clients,” said UNFPA Programme Officer Babsie Giddings, who monitors the project.