In the village of Corozal in Honduras, the Garifuna population, an Afro-Caribbean people on Central America’s Atlantic coast, has a very high HIV infection rate. According to CDC, 4.5 percent of this population is infected with HIV—a rate five times as high as the country as a whole, according to the government. No nation in the Western Hemisphere has a rate that high. Some of the locals are responding by trying to educate others through traditional music and theater. One participant in the theater group explained that HIV is a problem because some people do not understand it and some young people do not believe HIV exists. She said that theater and other community groups help because they engage people more than pamphlets or books. Dr. Mercy Garcia, who also participates in the play, said that his performances have inspired more young people to join the local theater group and, as a result, the youth lead safer lives.
Factors contributing to the high HIV rate in Corozal include lack of education, widespread poverty, and heavy migration. The men tend to work on cruise ships and fishing vessels that call at ports where HIV is prevalent. Also, locals say the disease spreads because it is culturally acceptable to have multiple sex partners. Garcia noted that people deny having HIV because they are afraid of being judged. He is hoping that education will help change their behavior.
Health ministry officials in the capital of Tegucigalpa want data on the effectiveness of this dramatic approach to education. They are completing a new study with CDC on HIV prevalence among the Garifuna. If the rate falls from 4.5 percent, it would be an indication that educational programs like the theater groups are working. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Honduran government have funded such groups, including the one in Corozal. Kellie Stewart, director of the Honduran health office for USAID, said that she has seen an improvement in the form of a substantial decline in the number of positive HIV tests among persons involved with USAID’s program in the community.