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Revamping HIV-prevention programs in the Caribbean

EAST LANSING, Mich. While global attention to HIV/AIDS remains strong, a lack of focus on prevention strategies is stonewalling health experts in many developing nations, specifically in the Caribbean.

By adopting a new approach to HIV prevention, Michigan State University's Institute of International Health is hoping to turn the tide on new infections on the island of Hispaniola, which accounts for nearly 75 percent of the Caribbean's AIDS cases.

"Both Haiti and the Dominican Republic have struggled to respond to the epidemic of HIV/AIDS based upon the resources available to them," said Reza Nassiri, director of MSU's Institute of International Health and an associate dean in the College of Osteopathic Medicine. "We have developed an academic approach to address the critical role of HIV prevention with a primary focus on cultural competency."

That approach involves training and mentoring opportunities for local health care professionals, including nurses and social workers, said Nassiri, who will present the plan at the upcoming Global Risk Forum's One Health Summit 2012 in Davos, Switzerland, on Feb. 19-22. The summit provides a forum for cross-disciplinary approaches to human health, highlighting the interconnectedness of human, animal and environmental health with food safety and security.

"Our need assessment survey indicates screening for sexually transmitted diseases is a vital HIV prevention tool in at-risk communities, especially among the youth," said Nassiri, noting the primary route of HIV transmission is sexual encounters. "Our approach also will develop a telemedicine connection with selected partners to strengthen HIV prevention."

The barriers to sustainable HIV programs are numerous, including lack of resources and trained personnel, cultural hurdles, the absence of a sustainable HIV prevention policy and inadequate funding. But the need is too great to not act, he said: "Treatment alone will not reverse the epidemics of HIV in the endemic regions of the world."

Nassiri worked on the presentation with colleagues from MSU's College of Osteopathic Medicine, Doctors United for Haiti in both American and Haiti, and the Boca Chica HIV Clinic and the Guanine Center in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

The One Health Summit brings together heads of states, health ministers, medical and health experts and leaders from non-governmental organizations to share knowledge, exchange information and discuss best practices. For more information, go to

Also at the summit, Nassiri and colleagues will discuss a model for Haiti to combat the cholera epidemic which has infected more than 300,000 people and killed more than 5,000 since October 2010. It involves working with community workers, volunteers, Haitian health care providers, public health officials, traditional healers and physician/nurse partners abroad.

"The success of such comprehensive intervention relies on the methodological means for implementation and the key players involved," Nassiri said.


Contact: Jason Cody
Michigan State University

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