UNFPA, OPEC Fund, Governments Confront New Urgency of HIV Infections in Central America and the Caribbean

28 April 2005
Author: UNFPA

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras—United Nations officials, youth representatives and policymakers in Central America and the Caribbean are meeting in San Pedro Sula, Honduras to find new methods to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS in the region, as the disease takes on a more threatening dimension in some countries.

Central America and the Caribbean have the highest HIV prevalence rate in the Western Hemisphere. Globally, the Caribbean has the world’s second highest prevalence rate, topped only by sub-Saharan Africa. In Honduras, AIDS has become the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age. On average, 57 per cent of those infected globally are between 15 and 24 years old.

"Young people are at the heart of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Not only are they most at risk, they also hold the key to limiting the spread of infections if they are provided with the necessary information and means to do so," said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, as she opened the meeting.

Over the coming two days, participants will discuss the achievements and future course of a regional effort to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The OPEC Fund for International Development has contributed $3.2 million to a 3-year programme, which targets vulnerable youth in Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras and St. Lucia.

"The point of the UNFPA/OPEC project is to use new, innovative approaches to reach young people, and encourage them to actually change their behaviour, based on the things they learn," said Mario Vergara, regional programme coordinator for the HIV/AIDS project.

Through the project, young people participate in community outreach programmes on HIV/AIDS prevention. Information materials are produced and distributed. The initiative has helped establish youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services, reaching migrants and young people living in difficult circumstances, such as school dropouts or those living in remote areas.

Activities in the six countries supported by the UNFPA/OPEC project are carried out in cooperation with the government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and religious bodies. The main focus is on young, vulnerable people, but includes a comprehensive range of activities adjusted to specific local needs in each country:

  • Belize (estimated HIV prevalence rate of 2.4 per cent). The UNFPA/OPEC project here centres on education about sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. It has contributed to a review of national policies to ensure that young, vulnerable people are educated about HIV/AIDS prevention.
  • Costa Rica (estimated HIV prevalence rate of 0.6 per cent). In cooperation with the Government and religious organizations, the OPEC Fund and UNFPA are reaching communities and vulnerable youth, including migrants, providing them with information, counselling and referrals in order to prevent HIV/AIDS.
  • In Guatemala (estimated HIV prevalence rate: 1.1 per cent) project activities centre on young migrants, particularly in the northern border town of Tecun Uman. In cooperation with the local NGO, EDUCAVIDA, and the House of Migrants, young migrants are offered sexuality education, particularly on HIV prevention and condom use. About 14,000 Central American migrants pass through Tecun Uman each year, but this number is expected to increase considerably in the near future.
  • In Guyana (estimated HIV prevalence rate: 2.5 per cent), the project forms part of the country’s national HIV/AIDS programme. It engages and educates vulnerable young people, as well as parents and community leaders.
  • In Honduras (estimated HIV prevalence rate: 1.8 per cent) the project works with schools, clinics and NGOs to provide services for vulnerable youth, including school dropouts and those living in remote areas with poor access to education or health services.
  • In St. Lucia, partnerships with the national Red Cross Society and other NGOs have helped bring education programmes to young people. A media campaign has educated women in the use of the female condom.

Combating HIV/AIDS is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals agreed to by world leaders at the Millennium Summit at the United Nations, New York, in September 2000. The specific target is to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS and begin to reverse the pandemic by 2015. The progress in achieving the goals will be evaluated at next September’s Millennium review meeting at the United Nations in New York in September this year.

Following up on the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), the United Nations General Assembly agreed in 1999 on new benchmarks to meet the Cairo goals. The Assembly agreed that by 2010 at least 95 per cent of young men and women aged 15 to 24 should have access to the information, education and services necessary to develop the life skills required to reduce their vulnerability to HIV infection.

Contact Information:

Trygve Olfarnes
Tel.: +52 55 5250-7977
Cell Phone: + 52 1 55 1353-8451

Population : 9.6 mil
Fertility rate
Maternal Mortality Ratio
Contraceptives prevalence rate
Population aged 10-24
Youth secondary school enrollment
Boys 43%
Girls 48%

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