by Alejandra Cabrera, PASMO
“I had never been in a hospital before,” says 28-year-old Panayotti as he looks down at his hands. “I was there for a week, but the doctors couldn’t tell me why I had such high fevers and headaches.”
Panayotti had just been diagnosed with HIV weeks earlier at a private lab in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. When he searched social media to find out where he could take an HIV test, he found the “Versátil” Fan Page on Facebook, which was developed by the Pan American Social Marketing Organization (PASMO) under USAID’s Combination Prevention Program for HIV in Central America. The page was created by the program to reach at-risk men who have sex with men (MSM) with key information on HIV prevention and refer them to services.
On the Versátil page, Panayotti interacted with an online patient advocate (OPA), Pastora, who referred him to a private lab that partnered with the program for rapid HIV testing services.
“While I was at the hospital, I realized I didn’t really have any friends in the city,” says Panayotti. “But Pastora came to check on me several times.”
If a client who is tested at the private laboratory partner has a reactive test result (indicating they likely have the HIV infection) the PASMO counselor is contacted to provide users with adequate post-test counseling services. Clients are also offered support from an OPA—in Panayotti’s case, Pastora—who specializes in supporting HIV positive individuals to navigate the public comprehensive care services needed to confirm a test result and begin treatment and care.
Panayotti is originally from La Ceiba, a small Caribbean port city in a region with some of the highest HIV prevalence rates in Honduras. He had moved to Tegucigalpa a few years before his diagnosis in search of job opportunities. Young, bilingual, extroverted and an avid user of social media, he soon found a job in a call center. Throughout his travels and his time in Tegucigalpa, he has had multiple sexual partners and unprotected sex with other men from different cities and towns in Honduras.
“I didn’t think of HIV testing as prevention,” he explains. “But now I’m taking my treatment, and I’m not afraid of telling my friends to take an HIV test regularly.”
From October 2018 to September 2019, the Combination Prevention Program in Honduras, which provided Panayotti with a connection to diagnosis and treatment, reached 4,544 at-risk individuals from key populations, mainly MSM and transgender women, with HIV prevention interventions. 1,870 were reached online like Panayotti. 1 of every 19 tests returned with a reactive result, and on average 60% of reactive individuals were linked to confirmatory testing and comprehensive care services provided by the Honduran public health system. Patient advocates like Pastora play a key role in the program, giving HIV positive individuals support and also accompanying them to accompaniments as they transition to a new lifestyle and healthcare regimen.
“I feel like a different person now,” says Panayotti with his characteristically broad smile. “When I’m having lunch with friends, they can’t believe how healthy my food options are,” he says with a chuckle.
“I tell them ‘take a test, it’s better to know.’ I mean, if you care about other things, why not also care about your own health and wellbeing?”
Photos courtesy of Alejandra Cabrera, PASMO