This week in Guayaquil, Ecuador has been a unique experience. At Fundación VIHDA, we were trained in HIV education and prevention. While I have participated in HIV training in the past, these services have been designed to meet the specific needs and address the statistics specific to Ecuador. Education, testing, counseling, treatment/medication and legal aid are provided free of charge by the government to anyone who needs these services. Comprehensive service incentives (such as food baskets) are rendered when an individual closely adheres to her or his treatment guidelines.
Yesterday my group was responsible for helping to facilitate the first session of ¿Cuánto sabes?, an HIV/AIDS education and prevention program designed to train youth to teach their peers in the school setting about how to protect themselves from HIV and AIDS. In Ecuador, the population of individuals ages 15 - 35 is at the highest risk of transmitting the HIV virus through unprotected sexual contact. Today I participated in pre- HIV test and post- HIV test counseling services and was fortunate to deliver a result of "not reactive" to the individual. Watching both of these programs in action, it was evident that stigma and misinformation are quite common amongst Ecuadorians. It was also evident why VIHDA has been successful with their mission thus far. I look forward to working at the maternity hospital next week to deliver HIV/AIDS education and prevention "charlas" to pregnant women. During these sessions we will address the importance of being tested for HIV to avoid possible transmission to the child, as well as teaching women how to protect themselves from contracting the virus in the future. While the subject can be intimidating at first, providing this type of education is a critical step to empowering Ecuadorians to achieve and maintain physical and mental well-being.