Central American Universities Implement Standardized HIV Training for Health Workers

More than 20 higher education institutions across Central America have integrated a new HIV curriculum into their nursing, medical, or other health professional training programs thanks to IntraHealth International’s work on the USAID-funded Central America CapacityPlus Project.

The training curriculum—which covers a full range of HIV prevention and treatment services, including HIV counseling and testing, reduction of HIV stigma and discrimination, adherence to antiretroviral therapy, biosafety, and post-exposure prophylaxis—is the first of its kind in the region.

IntraHealth International helped create this standard HIV-specific training curriculum for health workers and worked with educational institutions in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Panama to introduce the material into their preservice training programs. The curriculum will ensure health workers in the region graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to deliver high-quality HIV treatment, care, and support for people living with HIV.

Central America’s HIV epidemic is still relatively localized and concentrated in high-risk groups such as men who have sex with men, sex workers, and transgender women. In Belize, for example, HIV prevalence among ages 15–49 is 1.4% (the highest among the five countries) while HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men is 13.9%. Lack of knowledge about HIV, widespread stigma of the disease, discrimination against key populations at higher risk, limited access to health care, poverty, and migration all contribute to the region’s vulnerability to a growing HIV epidemic.

Panama leads the way

The new curriculum is based on IntraHealth’s Learning for Performance methodology, which reinforces essential information and skills to prepare health workers for the tasks they will perform on the job.

IntraHealth first worked with the University of Panama’s School of Nursing in 2012 to develop the HIV curriculum based on required competencies and gaps in knowledge identified by new nursing graduates employed in the workforce. At the time, the university had no required HIV-specific training.

In 2015, after finalizing the curriculum with the University of Panama, IntraHealth worked with University of Panama teachers who presented the material in two workshops for the country’s additional nursing schools. As a result, all the schools committed to implement the standard HIV curriculum within their departments.

The University of Panama’s School of Nursing permanently incorporated the new HIV curriculum into existing compulsory courses, including Adult Health, Mental Health, and Introduction to Nursing. The university also recommended all universities in the country implement the curriculum into their bachelor of science in nursing programs.

In the last few months, Universidad Latina de Panamá, Universidad Especializada de las Américas (UDELAS), and the Universidad Autónoma de Chiriquí (UNACHI) applied the curriculum to their nursing programs.

Other Central American countries follow suit

Other countries in the region have begun to implement the HIV curriculum—an important step to unify the response to HIV in Central America.

  • The University of Belize incorporated the HIV curriculum as a three-credit course on HIV in schools of nursing, allied health, and social work.
  • The Costa Rica Nursing College Board, with support from the Costa Rica Ministry of Health, standardized the HIV curriculum in seven nursing schools in the country.
  • In El Salvador the HIV curriculum is taught to medical students at Matías Delgado University. In addition, the University of El Salvador, IEPROESS Nursing School, and University of Santa Ana incorporated the HIV curriculum in medical and nursing school programs.
  • In Guatemala the Ministry of Health Sub-Directorate for Training included the HIV curriculum at San Carlos, its public nurse training school.
  • All established university nursing schools in Panama, with the leadership of the University of Panama, now implement the HIV curriculum.

Health professional students who benefit from this new standard curriculum will enter the workforce more prepared to provide high-quality HIV prevention services to their communities and care for people living with HIV.

Photo courtesy of Nuria Gatell (The HIV curriculum in use at the Universidad José Matías Delgado in El Salvado)