Cuban Group Aims To Reach Women With STI, HIV Prevention Messages
A group of women in Cuba's Pinar del Rio province has been operating a peer education program to raise awareness among other women about sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, the Inter Press Service reports. Cuba's Ministry of Public Health recorded 7,739 HIV/AIDS cases in the country as of October 2007. Although most cases of the disease occur among men, the proportion of HIV-positive people in Pinar del Rio who are women is 29.2%, compared with 19% nationwide, the Inter Press Service reports.
The program, coordinated by the Provincial Centre for Prevention of STIs and HIV/AIDS' Women's Project, designs educational strategies for towns and villages in the province. It also trains advocates who promote responsible sexual behavior among the local population. The program aims to raise awareness among women about the risk of STI transmission, as well as their understanding of factors that make them vulnerable. The program also aims to help women develop social skills that enable them to communicate better with their male partners and to negotiate things such as condom use, the Inter Press Service reports.
Project coordinator Gilma Gomez said, "Women in our province have a high level of knowledge about the nature of HIV and AIDS, and the main STIs, but they are not aware of specific factors that make them vulnerable and put them at risk." She added that traditional gender relations, the "inequality of communication between spouses" and other factors "put women in Pinar at a disadvantage with respect to HIV." Gomez said the program aims for women "to feel comfortable in the learning environment, so we promote a family atmosphere." She added that the idea is not to provide pre-packaged knowledge but to encourage a debate "on what women want and need to know about their situation with respect to HIV, as sexual beings and as educational agents transmitting information to other generations, using completely participative methods."
Martha Bermudez, the program's provincial coordinator for the University of Older Adults, said, "Our work is to explain all the problems related to" HIV/AIDS and STI "prevention, and also how women can become health promoters in their homes and neighborhoods." She added, "One of our main commitments is to take this message home with us. We have to talk to our children and their friends when they get together in our houses, but also to our neighbors and other community members, not just the young people" (Acosta, Inter Press Service, 3/26).