CAPE VERDE: The road to safer sex and HIV prevention

Daniel Delgado talks to an audience of male construction workers about safer sex.
Praia, 22 November 2007 (PlusNews) - Some turn their gaze away, others laugh nervously; a few can't stop staring, or else try to feign shyness. The reactions are never the same, but no one remains indifferent when Daniel Delgado, with enviable enthusiasm, takes the wooden penis out of his little black bag to demonstrate how to use a condom correctly.

Between the gravel machines and trucks, Delgado, 42, talks to an audience of male construction workers about safer sex, condoms and HIV as if he were an old friend.

They're employees of Monte Adriano, a Portuguese company building five roads in various parts of Santiago, the largest island in the Cape Verde archipelago, off the coast of Senegal in West Africa. From an economic point of view it makes sense for companies to protect their workforce, and it also makes sense to protect the communities near the construction sites.

"No, you can't catch the virus going to the barber," said Delgado. "But you can catch it having sex without a condom; that's why you should always have condoms with you."

Delgado was 36 years old and working as a painter on a construction site in Portugal when he was diagnosed HIV-positive in 2000; he immediately began antiretroviral (ARV) treatment.

In 2004 he decided to return to Cape Verde to work as an activist, bringing a three-month supply of ARVs in his baggage because the medication was not yet available in his home country.

Four days after taking his last remaining pill, Delgado received a call from the general director of the health ministry, Jaqueline Pereira, telling him that ARVs had just arrived in Cape Verde, and he would be the first patient in the country to get them.

Protecting the work force

Delgado works with Morabi, a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) contracted by the Monte Adriano construction company to run HIV-prevention programmes for its 250 workers. Cape Verde's HIV prevalence rate is a low 0.8 percent of a population of around 500,000.

"With the mobility of the workers and their contact with the communities, it's necessary to prevent the spread of the epidemic," explained Fátima Alves, Morabi's project coordinator.

Prevention campaigns are especially important for construction workers, who spend long periods away from their families. With extra time and money on their hands, sex - often unprotected - becomes an attractive alternative.

Delgado has been working every day for the past nine months; during the week he carries out campaigns in the communities, distributing pamphlets and prophylactics and informing people about being tested for the virus.

Photo: Lilian Liang/PlusNews
Prevention campaigns are especially important for construction workers
On Fridays he visits the construction company's main worksite in the municipality of Santa Cruz, some 35km from Santiago's capital, Praia, and the worksites in the municipality of Santa Catarina.

His effort seems to be paying off. An evaluation between November 2006 and July 2007 showed that almost 4,000 people had received information on AIDS, 15,000 condoms had been handed out, and 98 people had been tested for HIV. Only one test was positive - a Guinean worker, who is receiving counselling and treatment.

"This is everyone's battle. We're already seeing changes in behaviour, and many of them have started using condoms," said Paulo Tavares, programme coordinator at the construction company.

Despite these positive results, Delgado still encounters resistance. "I only use imported condoms - women like the ones that smell nice," said one of the workers in a mocking tone as he turned down the condoms being given away.

Delgado tried to persuade the man, but then gave up. He returned the condoms to their box and headed for the exit, sighing: "To stop the virus it doesn't have to smell nice."

Along the same lines, the Organisation of Cape Verdean Women (known by the Portuguese acronym OMCV), a local NGO, was chosen by Cape Verde's Ministry of the Environment and Agriculture to develop HIV/AIDS prevention programmes on projects for the construction of dykes and other infrastructure, and tree planting. Part of the project, including the prevention programme, is being financed by the African Development Bank.

The OMCV has focused on training community leaders. "When you train someone from the community, it has a very big impact," said Vicenta Cabral Fernandes, the OMCV's delegate in Santa Catarina. "The leader is elected by the community, so when he passes the message along it helps in terms of changing behaviour."

The first AIDS workshop run by OMCV was attended by 32 representatives from 25 community associations - more than half of them from municipalities other than Praia on the island of Santiago.

Celestino Cabral, 35, from a community association in the Engenhos Basin on Santiago, commented at the workshop: "I want to take what I've learned here to the community, to show the damage AIDS can cause society. A lot of people neglect this information because they don't know the risks."


Theme (s): Economy/Business - PlusNews, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Prevention - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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