GIVEN Guyana’s markedly improved economic status, much is expected of the country to take on more responsibility in funding its own projects in the HIV/AIDS area, which was previously, largely being funded by international donor organisations.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which carry out a large bulk of the work as it pertains to containing Guyana’s HIV/AIDS situation, and which are largely funded by the international grants, are now hopeful that the government will step in and fill the void left behind by the international funding.
“With the oil, Guyana is no longer as high a priority as we used to be, to be considered to get funding. So as NGOs we are depending on the government to pick up the slack,” conveyed Executive Director and Co-founder of Artiste In Direct Support (AIDS), Desiree Edghill.
AIDS has been receiving funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) since 1999, however that funding is expected to discontinue after this month.
According to Edghill, with the funding from USAID gone, that will leave the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria as the only international donor backing NGOs to continue their work.
However, even that funding is also finite, and not expected to last much longer. The NGOs had known for some time now that the end was coming, as it pertains to international funding, but remains optimistic.
“Global communities have started a slow departure, which started three four years ago,” explains Executive Director of the National Coordinating Coalition (NCC), Simone Sills.
The NCC is an umbrella organisation for some 39 other NGOs that focus on HIV/AIDS related services.
“Ever since Guyana was redefined in terms of its economic status, it meant that Guyana, and countries like Guyana that have a different economic status, have been reclassified as middle income or high income countries, their governments are expected to start contributing more and more,” Sills further added.
Though HIV/AIDS services are available free of cost at public health facilities all across the country, over the years a large amount of the work in stemming the spread of the virus and helping to support those infected, has been handled by the NGOs.
“The NGOs meet a niche that no other partner reaches. We reach out to the key population, and over 50 percent of testing and counselling services were provided by NGOs. So there is the need for the NGO in meeting that grassroots prevention and interaction,” explained Sills.
The NCC has partners in eight of the country’s 10 administrative regions, and teams that visit the other two regions on a needs basis.
“That is not to say that the ministry isn’t doing a good job, it’s because of the history of NGOs and the partnerships that the NGO made with the ordinary man. NGOs pretty much fill the gap in a person’s reluctance to go to the Ministry of Health, so we nurture and mentor them, and get them in the door,” Sills related.
Over the past 10 years and more, Guyana has made significant strides in containing the HIV/AIDS situation in the country, notwithstanding a continuous rise in new cases in the country.
According to UNAIDs statistics, approximately 8700 persons are living in Guyana with HIV/AIDS as at 2019, an increase of approximately 100 new cases more than 2018, and a 30 per cent increase from the 6700 cases the country reported ten years prior.
Sills reasoned that it’s the fact that funding to the NGOs have been progressively decreasing over the years that has led to the steady increase of new cases.
“We have already started to see an increase in HIV among that 15 – 35 age group, and it is because the intensity of HIV/AIDS awareness and education has significantly decreased, and that is because of decreased funding to the NGOs. The intensity from five, six years ago isn’t there and what we’re seeing is the creeping up of the new positive cases, in that age group that has a lot of misinformation,” Sills noted.
Notwithstanding the increase in cases, Guyana has been seeing many positive developments on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country.
In the recently released 2020 Global AIDS Update, Guyana is recorded as having seen a massive decline of discriminatory attitudes towards persons living with HIV. The country is also among a number of countries that are close to achieving the 90-90-90 target for 2020, with 94 per cent of affected persons knowing their status, 73 per cent of those affected being on treatment and 87 per cent of those on treatment achieving viral suppression.
Sills said if the NGOs were to not survive, a lot of the progress could be erased.
“All the gains made in the past few years being reversed, if the NGOs aren’t present in the fight against HIV, that includes gains we have made, against stigma and discrimination, seeking information,” she said.
To assess an arrangement of government funding for NGOs to continue, last year the MoPH conducted a pilot programme with four NGOs on social contracting to provide HIV/AIDS services. The programme ran from September – December, however continuation was stalled as the country awaits a resolution to its elections impasse.
“Local NGOs have to think beyond just the regular types of funding and look strategically at how to generate their own income, to keep their doors open, and that has birthed social contracting of NGOs. This is where government agencies contract the services of NGOs to fill the gap. Because NGOs meet the population that the health sectors do not reach,” Sills noted.