I went with Proyecto SOMOS at Via Libre for a weekend trip to do HIV outreach, education and rapid testing in a few sites south of Lima. You can see on this Google Map where we went (to the best of my ability…). Proyecto SOMOS is a program that targets men who have sex with men (MSM in English, HSH in Spanish) and trans women (male to female) to get tested for HIV and connects them with a local case manager and doctors if the result comes back as positive.
It was a fun trip overall, despite driving so far (8 hours to get back from Nazca!). Here is a picture of me at the outreach table in Pisco. We were in a very busy market area, surrounded by stalls selling CDs/DVDs, fruit, ceviche, as well as a bunch of hair salons. We were partnering with a hair salon that is known to have a lot of MSM and trans women clients, which was referred to us by our health promoter based in Pisco. I definitely got a lot of looks from people who looked like they were thinking ‘what the heck is this gringa doing here?!’
Edwar (not a typo) is the main HIV test counselor on the ground in the Pisco/Ica/Nazca area. He works with all the locally-based health promoters in the region and attends doctor appointments with many of our clients. He will be attending the confirmatory test appointment at the local health clinic with all three positives we got (out of over 70 tests that weekend).
This sign, along with the sign we hung on the outreach table that said ‘free HIV and syphilis tests’, was really disconcerting to me at first. In the work I’ve done before this weekend, we don’t normally scream out who we are. We try to keep ourselves low-key, so people watching from far away who see someone they know go to the van, they don’t start making assumptions. We definitely got a lot of grannies stopping by in this plaza asking me what was going on. I had to explain what HIV even was too, which was also interesting.
Jose Luis and Marcos were the two Via Libre staff members I traveled with. They go on this trip every two weeks, so they’re used to the drive, the 15-hour days, etc.
We went to many sites each day, including some very rural areas. One place we went, we had to build the road up a bit for the mobile unit to pass! This is a new soccer field that our local health promoter knew about that she visits a lot to talk to the guys about HIV testing. We just pulled our mobile unit up next to it and invited anyone who wanted to come get tested. Once they saw that they got a lot of free supplies, they were fighting to see who would get tested next!