Dec 6th, 2012 3:16 PM UTC
By Isabelle De Lichtervelde
With just over 5000 cases of HIV in 2011, Mauritius is not an obvious priority for most AIDS donors and mechanisms. But HIV/AIDS is on the rise on the island and affects the most vulnerable parts of the population.
Thanks to EU funding, a local organisation called Prévention Information Lutte contre le Sida (PILS) has brought the fight against HIV/AIDS in Mauritius to the forefront.
PILS was started by Nicolas Ritter in 1996 two years after he found out he was HIV positive. At the time there was no services in Mauritius for individuals with HIV/AIDS and he had to fly to neighbouring Reunion Island to get treatment. Inspired by what was happening in this neighbouring country, he decided to start PILS at the age of 25. Since then PILS’s work has saved lives and that’s what keeps Nicolas and his team dedicated to their work. They know that HIV/AIDS doesn’t have to be a death sentence and more and more, the people of Mauritius know this too.
Despite this success, Nadia Peerun, Fundraiser for PILS, explains that Mauritius is competing with other countries in the region. “It’s very difficult for us to get funding at those levels because the situation is much worse on the African continent.” Luckily the EU’s “Decentralised Cooperation Programme” in Mauritius makes it easier for PILS to get funding. Nadia explains “[this] system of funds being available at local level in Mauritius increases our chances of getting them in the health sector.” She adds, “Other donors don’t necessarily have this kind mechanism so it is much harder for us to get funding.”
In 2009, the EU funded an outreach project implemented by PILS to bring information, prevention, health and testing services to these excluded populations, such as drug users and sex workers, who are the most at risk. “It is really with EU funding that we got this project going.” Nadia adds, “This is very important for these populations. Because of the high level of stigma related to them, they don’t actually go to the public health centre.” Between 2009 and 2011, thanks to EU funding, 1103 HIV tests were carried out, 302 commercial sex workers and 753 people who inject drugs have been reached.
Thanks to EU funding, with one of the rare local funders, Rogers & Co. Ltd. that supports PILS’ advocacy project, PILS has been able to train other local organisations in advocacy. Nadia explains, “This is really important because there are many NGOs in Mauritius but there isn’t a common strategy with regard to advocacy activities.”
In 2009 and 2010, the EU also funded PILS’ own capacity building. Nadia explains, “This has helped us significantly in terms of being more efficient, more coordinated, a more solid NGO. EU’s financial management and programmatic management requirement is something that enabled us to grow and improve our management considerably.”
Besides its outreach and advocacy work, PILS has an empowerment programme targeting vulnerable groups who are living with HIV. These groups are marginalised in Mauritius and receive very little information about health, social guidance on rehabilitation or integration and how to reduce health risks. PILS offers workshops where artisanal skills are taught so that unemployed beneficiaries can stabilize their income. Nadia explains, “We are getting them to learn these new artisanal skills and register as entrepreneur. So they can sell their stuff on the market. It helps stabilize their income.” These workshops are also a good occasion to inform them on HIV and related issues.
People can also follow the more advanced training of PILS’ ‘Positive Ambassadors’ phase, whereby they are trained to be active in the national response to the crisis, by participating in PILS’ activities, in advocacy and policy-decisions. One of the participants, Den Ramsamy, decided to publicly disclose his HIV-positive status.
Nadia explains, “He got the tools he needed to advocate for his rights, to get his voice heard and participate in national meetings and eventually publicly disclose in front of the TV his status. It is a good example of how an EU-funded project contributed to having a big impact on the community.” Around 35 people are currently being trained to become positive ambassadors.
Asked if she’d prefer European countries to give more aid through the EU institutions or more national bilateral aid, Nadia replies without hesitations, “I’d be much more for receiving aid through the EU. From past experiences directly with European countries, we noticed the EU has more of a global picture. The EU is able to target funds and have pertinent calls for projects which I find much more difficult on a country basis because there is much less of this global picture. As the EU has this global picture it is much more coordinated. Funds are much better allocated.”
The mission of PILS is to minimise the impact of HIV in Mauritius through promoting prevention, improving the lives of HIV+ persons, and mobilising political and public support for HIV+ persons and issues. Visit : http://www.pils.mu/
Dec 5th, 2011 10:27 AM UTC
By Edith Jibunoh
Last week we marked World AIDs Day, our annual time for reflection and a recognition that the beginning of the end of AIDS is upon us. As we commemorate the strides that have been made in the battle against the disease since it’s discovery 30 years ago, it seems the perfect opportunity to present our next ONE award finalist, Prévention Information Lutte contre le Sida (PILS) in Mauritius and honour the progress that they have achieved in the battle against this indiscriminate disease.
Mauritius is probably not one of the African countries you would list in counting the likely candidates dealing with an HIV/AIDS problem, especially if your association of the country mirrors mine of beach, sun and palm trees! And yet PILS is an organization that has made great strides in the fight against HIV/AIDS by focusing on the parts of the population most affected by the disease and ensuring that their exclusion from care and prevention did not facilitate an epidemic in the country.
PILS was started by Nicolas Ritter in 1996 two years after he found out he was HIV positive. At the time there was no services in Mauritius for individuals with HIV/AIDS and he had to fly to neighbouring Reunion Island to get treatment. Inspired by what was happening in this neighbouring country, he decided to start PILS at the age of 25. At the time there were only about 140 cases of the disease in the country but without treatment it was pretty much a death sentence. By 2001, the number of known HIV positive cases had doubled to over 280 and Nicolas decided to be the first person to publicly declare his status. With a change of government in 2000, their advocacy efforts intensified and they were able to convince the new government to open the National Aids Centre. As a result of the strong advocacy by PILS, the government agreed to provide universal access to ARV’s.
In this same period, Mauritius had become a hub for heroine trafficking and the drug had hit the streets. In 2003, an explosion of HIV cases among drug users occurred and by 2005, there were over 2,000 cases in the country. In the same year, Mauritius was identified as the country with the highest opiate consumption in Africa (relative to population size) and the second highest in the world after Iran. Today 75% of HIV cases in Mauritius are among needle users.
To address these issues, PILS organized the first conference in Africa on opiates abuse and harm reduction, and has successfully drawn attention to the emerging issue of drug use in Africa and the consequent epidemic problems. Once AIDS is introduced in the drug user community it spreads fast. But thanks to PILS advocacy there has been a reduction of the rate of infection amongst injectable drug users. The organization recognizes that the groups most affected by this disease in Mauritius – commercial sex workers, men having sex with other men, and injectable drug users – could be stuck in a vicious cycle of vulnerability if they not supported.
PILS has lobbied for amendments to the drug act, which criminalized paraphernalia associated with drugs including needles, and prevented interventions such as a needle exchange program that could help address the problem. When the hard fought for HIV/AIDS Bill was introduced in 2006, it contained harmful provisions such as the criminalization of HIV transmission, but PILS was ready to mobilize and through its advocacy efforts and successfully had these provisions removed and replaced with language to protect HIV Positive cases.
PILS has also created economic empowerment programs to support HIV Positive individuals and the support groups that they convene encourage platforms for people to share their fears, hopes and dreams.
The PILS team
PILS has been instrumental in the introduction of important HIV/AIDS in Mauritius and has also ensured the amendment of legislation that could contribute to the worsening of the HIV situation on the small island. While there were many instances in the early days of their advocacy work that PILS had to go into direct opposition with the government’s position on HIV related matters, they now have a great working relationship and are a key partner of government in the fight against the disease.
PILS work has saved lives and that’s what keeps Nicolas and his team dedicated to their work. They know that HIV/AIDS doesn’t have to be a death sentence and more and more, the people of Mauritius know this too.
A big WELL DONE to PILS for all their hard work and we wish you the very best of luck!
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