Mentoring for Change: Peer Support in Honduras Strengthens Safe Sex Behavior for Men Who Have Sex With Men
Honduras is highly stigmatized. Men who have sex with men (MSM) face discrimination and sometimes violence, making it difficult for them to access health services. The AIDSTAR-Two project, funded by US Agency for International Development/Honduras and led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH), is working with local non-governmental organizations in Honduras to improve the provision of HIV prevention services for this highly vulnerable population, as well as other most-at-risk groups.
In San Pedro Sula, Honduras' second largest city, AIDSTAR-Two is providing technical support and financial assistance to Comunidad Gay Sampedrana para la Salud Integral (CGSSI) to provide prevention services and interventions designed to change the risk behaviors of men who have sex with men (MSM), a group with the highest HIV prevalence in the country at 9.9%. One of their most successful strategies has been their mentoring program, which introduces men who are engaging in high risk behaviors with other men who have overcome these challenges. These mentors serve as role models and provide advice on how to make better choices.
One young man participating in the program, who does not want his name used to protect his privacy, says that not only has he seen a difference in his life, but that others have, too.
"There was a significant change in my life with my parents and friends. I showed them that I have evolved as a person, and this has given me their acceptance," says the 23-year-old, who, six months earlier, was engaging in high risk behaviors. "Before, my drinking habits made me get into trouble, in fights with friends and family, and led to unprotected sexual relations. I have learned that just being attractive and popular is not enough; I have to respect myself, too."
CGSSI focused the mentors' curriculum on HIV prevention information and personal growth, especially in the areas of self-esteem and interpersonal relations.
"The mentor strategy was designed by CGSSI to assure that their hard work with 310 MSM leaders will not fail due to relapse," says William Acosta, a CGSSI educator. "When a person feels himself to be important, he is willing to work harder not only for himself, but for others. His example moves his peers to change also," explained Acosta.
Another program participant who is a university student said, "My life plan as a mentor includes to stop drinking, to finish law school, and have fewer sexual partners. I am free from AIDS, thanks to my behavior change and the use of condoms. I am very proud of myself."
Both leaders and mentors of the project are trained to reach other MSM in their communities with HIV prevention information. CGSSI estimates that last year the program reached approximately 3,468 men.
AIDSTAR-Two's work with CGSSI is just one example of how the project is helping local organizations develop stronger HIV & AIDS programs. AIDSTAR-Two offers proven strategies for magnifying the impact of HIV & AIDS programs, delivering organizational capacity building with an emphasis on management, leadership, governance, and overall organizational development. The AIDSTAR-Two Consortium is composed of MSH; International HIV/AIDS Alliance; Cardno; Health and Development Africa; Initiatives, Inc.; Save the Children; and Religions for Peace.