During the recent UN High-Level Meeting on AIDS in NYC this past June 8-10, 2011, Panama’s Minister of Health, Franklin Vergara, promised that the government would promote sexual education in classrooms, getting parents and teachers involved.
A similar program that AID FOR AIDS International, through its office in Panama, had been conducting in the country, was eliminated from the school system in June 2009. The news coming out from the High Level Meeting were well received by many working in the field. Carlos Pavel Smith, coordinator of the HIV prevention program at AID FOR AIDS also applauds the initiative hoping that it is carried out as promised.
Pavel considers that it is unfortunate that Panama is the only country in Central America that has not fulfilled its promises under the Ministerial Declaration of Prevention with Education, signed in 2008. This Declaration seeks to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic with the support of the health education sector as well as civil society.
From 2007- 2009, AID FOR AIDS Panama carried out many talks about sexual education and HIV prevention among youth in 10 public and private schools in the country. However, the Minister of Education in Panama (MEDUCA – for it’s Spanish acronym) closed the program in June 2009.
Luis Soane, Coordinator at the Panamanian Coalition for Integral Sexual Education stresses that there is no use for the Minister of Health (MINSA – for its acronym in Spanish) to create a program of sexual education if the Minister of Education will not put it into use within the school system.
On HIV prevention, Minister Vergara stated in New York that they will remain vigilant of pregnant women to ensure the virus is detected and treated on time as a way of reducing the likelihood of transmission from mother to child.
He assured the audience that they are committed to developing more efficient strategies to protect the population that is at higher risk. This includes promoting rapid HIV testing with qualified counselors, access to condoms, and attention to quality healthcare.
According to MINSA’s official statistics, there are 16,500 people living with HIV or AIDS in Panama.
Article adapted from a note by Chris Yee Da Silva published in La Prensa on June 14, 2011: