It’s been 8 years since the inception of “¿Cuánto sabes de VIH y Sida?” (translated as “How much do you know about HIV and AIDS?” and referred to as “Cuanto Sabes?), AID FOR AIDS International’s primary HIV prevention program in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). “Cuanto Sabes?” has consistently proven its effectiveness in delivering a life-saving message by advocating for healthy and responsible sexual behaviors among young people as well as for changes in attitude regarding consideration and respect towards people living with HIV.
We owe a large debt of gratitude for this success to the significant contribution from the Elton John AIDS Foundation and to the many partners with whom we’ve worked throughout the years. In particular, Colombia’s track record shows outstanding growth as we’ve continued to expand “Cuanto Sabes?” through affiliations with major public entities such as the Municipal Public Health Department of the city of Cali in Valle del Cauca.
To put things in perspective, the numbers tell the story. In 2006 and 2007, we conducted training workshops for 90 students from public and private educational institutions in Santiago de Cali who then became Multiplier Agents in HIV and AIDS prevention. In this role, they lead efforts to “multiply,” or replicate, their training with their peers. That single 90 person training had the “multiplying effect” of ultimately helping to reach nearly 7,000 students during 2007 and 2008 alone.
“Our programs are well received by young people because they use ‘peer education.’ Young people receive information in their own language from other youth instead of having an adult ‘lecture’ them about the culture of prevention,” said Hector Gomez, facilitator and Assistant Coordinator of the program in Colombia.
It is a known fact that the most vulnerable population in Latin America is made up of teenagers and young adults between the ages of 15 and 25, many of whom attend a variety of educational institutions. For this reason, it became important for AID FOR AIDS to integrate the training of teachers and other professionals who work closely with young people into the HIV prevention program. As a result, 60 psychologists in Valle del Cauca attended the classes and, with the help and coordination of the AID FOR AIDS staff, these professionals received appropriate HIV/AIDS prevention materials.
In 2009, in partnership with the Health and Education Ministries of Valle del Cauca, the program was expanded in order to train 287 teachers in Santiago de Cali public educational institutions. During 2010 we trained 105 teachers in Palmira. In the same year and in 2011, thanks to our agreement with the Secretary of Education, we continued with the training of the GAGEM Group (Support Group for Municipal Educational Management). In this training, 61 teachers from public education instituions in the municipalities of Vijes, Summit, Yumbo, Jamundi, Dagua, Seville and Caicedonia graduated as “Cuanto Sabes?” Multiplying Agents and Facilitators. These teachers were able to subsequently pass the “Cuanto Sabes?” message along to 1787 young people who then spoke to another 5780 of their peers in local educational institutions.
It is also important to note that the many activities that took place in Colombia in commemoration of World AIDS Day 2011, did so with the support of government agencies such as the Health Department Secretariat of the Valle government. The “Cuánto Sabes”? program played a very prominent role in a variety of activities staged by the Secretary of State and the municipal governments of Valle del Cauca during Sexuality Health Week.
Continuing to expand the “Cuánto Sabes?”program this year, AFAI is conducting a pilot program specifically tailored to meet the needs of the LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) community. The pilot of the program with LGBTI youth will also serve a way to get specific input from that group in order to improve the impact of “Cuanto Sabes?” with that specific community. Once AFAI gathers the appropriate feedback, we can incorporate that community’s specific needs into the program. Then the message will continue to be carried to other LGBTI communities in the region.
“It is not easy to gather the LGBTI community because there is still so much prejudice and discrimination against them so the support we received from the Ministry of Health was essential in this regard,” said Dora Guzman, Coordinator of “Cuánto Sabes?” in Colombia.
We want to send congratulations on behalf of the entire AID FOR AIDS organization to the first LGBTI group in Colombia who, on Saturday April 28, graduated as Multipliers Agents. Thank you for your commitment and enthusiasm in helping to spread information that saves lives!