A Place of Hope for Nicaraguans at Risk of HIV

by Alejandra Cabrera, PASMO

Marlex finally fell asleep after nearly two weeks of feeling very ill. The 30-year-old Nicaraguan had been losing weight due to diarrhea. It wouldn’t stop, even with the over-the-counter medication he had taken.

Marlex’s partner, Jael, looked on with concern. He was worried that Marlex’s health wouldn’t improve. Switching off the bedroom lamp and stepping into the adjacent room, Jael spent the next few hours scouring Google, and then Facebook, for answers to Marlex’s symptoms. It was on Facebook where he finally found what he was looking for.

“I’m so thankful I found ‘Versátil’,” Jael says.

Versátil, a Facebook Fan Page created by the Pan American Social Marketing Organization (PASMO), works to reach at-risk men who have sex with men (MSM) like Marlex with information and referrals to HIV prevention services, including HIV testing and counseling, under USAID’s Combination Prevention Program for HIV in Central America.

“I suspected it was HIV,” recalls 32-year-old Jael. “I needed to find the right place for us to get tested together”.

After sending a private message to a PASMO cyber-educator through the Versátil Fan Page, Jael was able to schedule an appointment for himself and Marlex to receive HIV testing services at the PASMO office in Nicaragua’s capital city of Managua, not too far from where they lived. Though Jael’s test returned with a negative result, Marlex had a reactive result. He was soon confirmed as HIV positive at a local comprehensive care clinic, where he began to receive care and treatment.

From October 2018 to September 2019, the Combination Prevention Program in Nicaragua reached 1,278 at-risk MSM, their partners and other key populations such as transgender women, providing testing services to 762 clients. 8% had reactive tests results, or one of every 13 tests. More than 93% of individuals were reached online through cyber-educators. When a test has a reactive result, the client is referred to one of PASMO’s “online patient advocates,” who is responsible for providing in-depth and personalized support and follow-up for each case. With support from these advocates, PASMO can ensure that those with reactive results confirm their test and become linked to the public comprehensive care services. where they can begin treatment as soon as possible.

After months of treatment, Marlex’s health had begun to improve significantly. He credits early detection, private and friendly HIV testing services and ongoing support for his new outlook on health and life.

“We’ve been through some difficult times,” says Jael. “But we’re now in a good place, a place of hope.”

Banner image courtesy of Alejandra Cabrera, PASMO

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