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stories

Stories

Latest stories from IPPF

Spotlight

A selection of stories from across the Federation

barbadoa

Barbados

Story

“At BFPA, we don’t turn away anyone”

11 August 2021

In Barbados, the age of consent is 16 but “there is still the issue of the age of access versus the age of consent.” Keriann explained that there’s no legal framework that prevents young people between 16 and 18 from accessing SRH services; there is the cultural “assumption that they must bring parent/guardian to be seen by a medical professional.”
trail
story

| 11 June 2021

The Migrant Experience: “They understand us and that is so hard to find”

Three million Venezuelans, fleeing a national crisis of economic depression and political oppression have found themselves seeking refuge in Latin America and the neighbouring islands of the Caribbean. About 40,000 of those have come to Trinidad and Tobago’s shores, with the hopes of finding a better life. Anything would be different from what they have left behind.  Neighbourhoods that once echoed the voices of playing children, were now riddled with the sounds of gunshots. Business places with broken store fronts, empty grocery and pharmacy shelves, elderly persons homeless and impoverished. Those with well-paying jobs could no longer make enough money to feed their families so walking the streets in your own neighbourhood put you at risk of kidnapping for menial ransoms.  This was the situation in Cumana Sucre that caused Marina Lopez to flee with her husband and two daughters in 2018. She was a preschool teacher and a good one at that. She loved the interaction she had with her students, seeing them grow in both knowledge and stature in their formative years, but it wasn’t enough to allay her fears of her own family’s survival.  As persons living with HIV, Marina and her teenaged daughter depended on constant access to medicine and healthcare, neither of which was still accessible. With daughters in tow, Marina and her husband braved the waters in search of new life in Trinidad.  About the same time, Ana Camacho, a young mother with dreams of migrating to Canada, said goodbye to her teary-eyed mother, sisters and 12-year-old daughter. She once held a good job as an administrator in Anaco, Venezuela, but when the company closed, she could no longer make the money needed to provide. A life in Canada seemed very promising and she and a friend decided that they would work for 3 months in Trinidad to gather the funds for the move up North. However, when she gained employment in Trinidad, her mother became ill and she was forced to postpone her plans and settle on the island in order to continue working.   “Everyone was so friendly and treated us like people” Both Marina and Ana can vividly recount the experiences that brought them to Trinidad 3 years ago. Today, they are both clients of the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) receiving care to meet their varying sexual and reproductive health needs.  “I was told about the Clinic from the UNHCR. They suggested that my daughter and I come here for treatment. When we got here everyone was so friendly and treated us like people. They understand us and that is so hard to find. They also referred us to the hospital in San Fernando for further treatment and it has been great since. We feel very comfortable here,” Marina disclosed. For 34-year-old Ana, her experience at FPATT is an interesting one. “When I first heard about the Clinic, I thought I would come in for a pap smear. I was in a new country, working and sending what I made back home for my family. I didn’t want to risk getting sick so I booked an appointment to get the test. When I came in, the nurses asked me if I was pregnant, and I said no, only to find out that I was. I was shocked, but I knew that the doctors and nurses at the clinic are good people and would take care of me during pregnancy. My son is now 14 months and now I come in for my contraceptive shot. I bring my son with me and everyone treats him like their own,” she says.  Ana was also a participant in the webinar series hosted by FPATT in January 2021. The 8-module Zoom series was based on IPPF’s One Curriculum, but designed to meet the specific needs of the migrant community. Although the series covered many topics including Nutrition, Gender-Based Violence and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, the one module that stood out for Ana was Self Defense.  “One day I was on my way to work in a taxi and I realized that the driver was not taking the route that other drivers do. I asked him where he was going and he wouldn’t answer me. I got very scared because I was in the taxi by myself. I started to shout at him and he still wouldn’t answer me until finally he stopped and I ran out of the taxi. I went to a police station and the officer asked me what I was doing alone in the taxi. I told him that I was trying to get to work. After that, I never worked again. It’s too risky. I wish I had seen that self-defense class before that evening,” she said.  Many migrants have had similar experiences to that of Ana’s. Incidences of sexual exploitation, gender-based violence, and xenophobia are rampant among the women in the community and so they are grateful for the refuge they find at FPATT. “In here, they genuinely look out for us,” Ana says, “and that’s different from how we are treated when we walk the street. They live up to their name as Family.”  

trail
story

| 21 June 2022

The Migrant Experience: “They understand us and that is so hard to find”

Three million Venezuelans, fleeing a national crisis of economic depression and political oppression have found themselves seeking refuge in Latin America and the neighbouring islands of the Caribbean. About 40,000 of those have come to Trinidad and Tobago’s shores, with the hopes of finding a better life. Anything would be different from what they have left behind.  Neighbourhoods that once echoed the voices of playing children, were now riddled with the sounds of gunshots. Business places with broken store fronts, empty grocery and pharmacy shelves, elderly persons homeless and impoverished. Those with well-paying jobs could no longer make enough money to feed their families so walking the streets in your own neighbourhood put you at risk of kidnapping for menial ransoms.  This was the situation in Cumana Sucre that caused Marina Lopez to flee with her husband and two daughters in 2018. She was a preschool teacher and a good one at that. She loved the interaction she had with her students, seeing them grow in both knowledge and stature in their formative years, but it wasn’t enough to allay her fears of her own family’s survival.  As persons living with HIV, Marina and her teenaged daughter depended on constant access to medicine and healthcare, neither of which was still accessible. With daughters in tow, Marina and her husband braved the waters in search of new life in Trinidad.  About the same time, Ana Camacho, a young mother with dreams of migrating to Canada, said goodbye to her teary-eyed mother, sisters and 12-year-old daughter. She once held a good job as an administrator in Anaco, Venezuela, but when the company closed, she could no longer make the money needed to provide. A life in Canada seemed very promising and she and a friend decided that they would work for 3 months in Trinidad to gather the funds for the move up North. However, when she gained employment in Trinidad, her mother became ill and she was forced to postpone her plans and settle on the island in order to continue working.   “Everyone was so friendly and treated us like people” Both Marina and Ana can vividly recount the experiences that brought them to Trinidad 3 years ago. Today, they are both clients of the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) receiving care to meet their varying sexual and reproductive health needs.  “I was told about the Clinic from the UNHCR. They suggested that my daughter and I come here for treatment. When we got here everyone was so friendly and treated us like people. They understand us and that is so hard to find. They also referred us to the hospital in San Fernando for further treatment and it has been great since. We feel very comfortable here,” Marina disclosed. For 34-year-old Ana, her experience at FPATT is an interesting one. “When I first heard about the Clinic, I thought I would come in for a pap smear. I was in a new country, working and sending what I made back home for my family. I didn’t want to risk getting sick so I booked an appointment to get the test. When I came in, the nurses asked me if I was pregnant, and I said no, only to find out that I was. I was shocked, but I knew that the doctors and nurses at the clinic are good people and would take care of me during pregnancy. My son is now 14 months and now I come in for my contraceptive shot. I bring my son with me and everyone treats him like their own,” she says.  Ana was also a participant in the webinar series hosted by FPATT in January 2021. The 8-module Zoom series was based on IPPF’s One Curriculum, but designed to meet the specific needs of the migrant community. Although the series covered many topics including Nutrition, Gender-Based Violence and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, the one module that stood out for Ana was Self Defense.  “One day I was on my way to work in a taxi and I realized that the driver was not taking the route that other drivers do. I asked him where he was going and he wouldn’t answer me. I got very scared because I was in the taxi by myself. I started to shout at him and he still wouldn’t answer me until finally he stopped and I ran out of the taxi. I went to a police station and the officer asked me what I was doing alone in the taxi. I told him that I was trying to get to work. After that, I never worked again. It’s too risky. I wish I had seen that self-defense class before that evening,” she said.  Many migrants have had similar experiences to that of Ana’s. Incidences of sexual exploitation, gender-based violence, and xenophobia are rampant among the women in the community and so they are grateful for the refuge they find at FPATT. “In here, they genuinely look out for us,” Ana says, “and that’s different from how we are treated when we walk the street. They live up to their name as Family.”  

trinidad
story

| 14 May 2021

Changing Mindsets Through Medicine & Motivation

“You work with people who have HIV? Why?”  That was the question asked to Dr. Gregory Boyce by the young intern that stood before him. He had come to the hospital ward to visit a client who was known to be living with HIV. He approached the intern at the desk and gave his name and designation. The intern looked at him, confused and somewhat amused and asked the question that he has neither forgotten, nor understood to this day.  However, this young intern’s question comes from a mindset that Dr. Boyce is working fervently to change. As Deputy Director of the Medical Research Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago (MRF), Dr. Boyce provides clinical as well as administrative support to a team of doctors and nurses whose daily vocation is to persons living with HIV. Due to MRF’s long-standing work in HIV research and healthcare, the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), has navigated many of its clients to Dr. Boyce and his team, especially clients from the LGBTQI community.  “Persons coming to us from key populations, have very layered needs. They are facing unique challenges in addition to living with the virus. There is still that myth that being HIV positive means that you will positively die. Added to that, there’s the discrimination that the community faces in every aspect of their lives on a daily basis. As a staff, we’ve had to seek special training to guide the way we interact with these clients so that we can meet all their needs appropriately and sensitively,” explains Dr. Boyce.  He continued “Apart from medical interventions which are needed to ensure that our clients continue to live healthy lives, we focus heavily on their psychosocial needs. It’s easy to think that because a client is physically healthy that they are also emotionally healthy. We have clients that won’t leave abusive relationships because they think no one else would accept them. We have other clients that are dealing with long-term medication fatigue because they have been taking pills for over 10 years. With that sometimes comes depression and other drug addictions, which is why it’s necessary for us to maintain open and honest relationships to address those accompanying issues.” Making HIV a non-issue Having worked with persons living with HIV for over 20 years, Dr. Boyce remembers the early days that led him to this specialization. He had worked at the Port of Spain General Hospital after graduating, during which time, medicine for persons living with HIV was expensive and out of reach for many. A few years later, through government programmes, medicine became more affordable, and treatment centers were opening up across the island. However, Dr. Boyce realized that the mortality rate had not changed by much. He wondered why people were still dying from a virus when medicine was easily accessible. That was when he decided to follow his heart and commit to helping persons with HIV understand that there is hope.  “That first conversation – giving a client the news that they’ve tested positive – is very important. We get to show them that HIV is not an impediment. Most times, with the wrong information, they start to draw up a list of things that they can no longer do, like go after a promotion or start a family. Then they go through life shrunken and unrecognizable, not the person they once were. So to answer that intern’s question about why I work with persons living with HIV: I want to make HIV a non-issue,” he states.   Dr. Boyce hopes to see HIV disclosure become as acceptable as other chronic illnesses such as cancer or diabetes, where an entire family would work towards caring for the affected person, instead of alienating them. He also hopes to see more inclusion and tolerance towards persons living with HIV, especially those within the LGBTQI community.  “Until a gay or transgender person can walk the streets freely and not be jeered at by passers-by, we still have a long way to go. Until they can access treatment at any public facility without fear or judgment, we have a lot of work to do. It would take a lot of education to change the stigma and discrimination but there is absolutely no reason why another person’s life should be miserable because their expression is different to ours,” he commented.  He commends the work of FPATT in upholding the sexual and reproductive health rights of the LGBTQI community, through ensuring that they have a safe and non-judgmental environment for HIV and other STI tests. He says that the Medical Research Foundation values the great relationship that the two organizations have had for years, even as FPATT works towards becoming its own full-service antiretroviral treatment site for persons living with HIV.  

trinidad
story

| 21 June 2022

Changing Mindsets Through Medicine & Motivation

“You work with people who have HIV? Why?”  That was the question asked to Dr. Gregory Boyce by the young intern that stood before him. He had come to the hospital ward to visit a client who was known to be living with HIV. He approached the intern at the desk and gave his name and designation. The intern looked at him, confused and somewhat amused and asked the question that he has neither forgotten, nor understood to this day.  However, this young intern’s question comes from a mindset that Dr. Boyce is working fervently to change. As Deputy Director of the Medical Research Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago (MRF), Dr. Boyce provides clinical as well as administrative support to a team of doctors and nurses whose daily vocation is to persons living with HIV. Due to MRF’s long-standing work in HIV research and healthcare, the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), has navigated many of its clients to Dr. Boyce and his team, especially clients from the LGBTQI community.  “Persons coming to us from key populations, have very layered needs. They are facing unique challenges in addition to living with the virus. There is still that myth that being HIV positive means that you will positively die. Added to that, there’s the discrimination that the community faces in every aspect of their lives on a daily basis. As a staff, we’ve had to seek special training to guide the way we interact with these clients so that we can meet all their needs appropriately and sensitively,” explains Dr. Boyce.  He continued “Apart from medical interventions which are needed to ensure that our clients continue to live healthy lives, we focus heavily on their psychosocial needs. It’s easy to think that because a client is physically healthy that they are also emotionally healthy. We have clients that won’t leave abusive relationships because they think no one else would accept them. We have other clients that are dealing with long-term medication fatigue because they have been taking pills for over 10 years. With that sometimes comes depression and other drug addictions, which is why it’s necessary for us to maintain open and honest relationships to address those accompanying issues.” Making HIV a non-issue Having worked with persons living with HIV for over 20 years, Dr. Boyce remembers the early days that led him to this specialization. He had worked at the Port of Spain General Hospital after graduating, during which time, medicine for persons living with HIV was expensive and out of reach for many. A few years later, through government programmes, medicine became more affordable, and treatment centers were opening up across the island. However, Dr. Boyce realized that the mortality rate had not changed by much. He wondered why people were still dying from a virus when medicine was easily accessible. That was when he decided to follow his heart and commit to helping persons with HIV understand that there is hope.  “That first conversation – giving a client the news that they’ve tested positive – is very important. We get to show them that HIV is not an impediment. Most times, with the wrong information, they start to draw up a list of things that they can no longer do, like go after a promotion or start a family. Then they go through life shrunken and unrecognizable, not the person they once were. So to answer that intern’s question about why I work with persons living with HIV: I want to make HIV a non-issue,” he states.   Dr. Boyce hopes to see HIV disclosure become as acceptable as other chronic illnesses such as cancer or diabetes, where an entire family would work towards caring for the affected person, instead of alienating them. He also hopes to see more inclusion and tolerance towards persons living with HIV, especially those within the LGBTQI community.  “Until a gay or transgender person can walk the streets freely and not be jeered at by passers-by, we still have a long way to go. Until they can access treatment at any public facility without fear or judgment, we have a lot of work to do. It would take a lot of education to change the stigma and discrimination but there is absolutely no reason why another person’s life should be miserable because their expression is different to ours,” he commented.  He commends the work of FPATT in upholding the sexual and reproductive health rights of the LGBTQI community, through ensuring that they have a safe and non-judgmental environment for HIV and other STI tests. He says that the Medical Research Foundation values the great relationship that the two organizations have had for years, even as FPATT works towards becoming its own full-service antiretroviral treatment site for persons living with HIV.  

ngelie Chotalal, Clinic Co-ordinator, manages programmes for FPATT’s 4 static clinics across the country.
story

| 11 May 2021

A Master and Matriarch among the Migrants

Never did she think that a job as Clinic Administrator would lead to a career that would change so many lives, but in 2007, Angelie Chotalal embarked on a path that would also change her life for good. Working at the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) in her late thirties, Angelie found joy in handling the administrative needs of the clinic, ensuring that the doctors and staff had all the resources to function at full capacity. She held that position for 3 years until she transferred into the vocation of Sessional Nurse, caring for the clients and clinic in a more hands-on role.  For the next 8 years, Angelie would devote her energy into education, becoming a Health and Family Life Education Master Trainer, as well as a Master Trainer in HIV Testing.  It was during this time that she also improved her bilingual skills; a decision that would prepare her for great success in the coming years.  “Hola! Como estás? Te ves bien,” she says as she greets a Venezuelan woman in the waiting area of the clinic. Her compassion is soothing and her smile is contagious. In her current role as Clinic Co-ordinator, Angelie has found herself having to be creative, innovative and still down-to-earth in the planning and execution of programmes for FPATT’s 4 static clinics across the country. The young migrant mothers of the clinic have come to know her as a matriarch, as she frequents the clinic floor always ready to attend to a new concern. “What makes them less than human?” Fleeing political oppression, lack of food and medicine and the downfall of the Venezuelan economy, over 40,000 Venezuelans have migrated to Trinidad to seek safer livelihoods. Many of them work to send most of their income home for the families they had to leave behind. “This here is my heartbeat. The work we do with the migrant community is dear to me because when I hear their stories, I know that there is so much more to be done. They are part of a population that has not received equal treatment. They’ve been put into a situation that they couldn’t expect and their only hope was to flee to this country where basic human rights are being withheld from them. What makes them less than human?” she asks, her visage pained with concern. Despite the influx of Venezuelans, Trinidad and Tobago’s migration policy has offered refugees very little access to healthcare and social services. However, FPATT’s mandate is to ensure that every person living within the borders of Trinidad and Tobago receive equal access to Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (SRH) and Angelie’s personal mission is to ensure that they receive the best treatment when they come to her clinic.  “In 2018, we started offering healthcare specifically for the migrants. We had to ensure that our staff were compatible with our vision, and it was more than being bilingual; we each had to be genuinely empathetic toward the community we were seeking to serve. We worked to remove bias, xenophobia and other ill perceptions from even our own lives,” she noted. “The community is so close knit, that word of our services spread quickly and very soon our clinic for migrants was up and running. They would come in and see that it was a safe space to share their experiences and we took the time to listen, because they wouldn’t get this safety anywhere else.”  Before the FPATT clinic, migrants who needed SRH healthcare have had to book appointments with private doctors who often charge more than the migrants can afford.  “They work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, get enough income to take care of their families here and those they’ve left behind. We’ve visited homes that house up to 10 migrant families, but it’s merely a shack with no running water or space to sleep. And then COVID hit,” she pauses pensively. “Incomes disappeared and so did options for housing; many of them were left homeless, so women who were already vulnerable were now being exploited. Imagine, your landlord asks you to pay for your rent with sex and a month later, brings his friends to cash in on the same favour, all because he knows you have nowhere else to live.”  Taking SRH Services online FPATT has offered all their regular healthcare services including gender-based violence counselling, birth control and emergency contraception to the migrant community. When Trinidad and Tobago entered a lockdown due to COVID protocols in 2020, FPATT approached the United Nations Population Fund for sponsorship to launch TeleHealth, an online medical consultation programme specifically for the migrant community. Through TeleHealth, clients are able to book 30-minute consultations with a clinical doctor and have their concerns addressed, ailments diagnosed and medicine prescribed, over WhatsApp video call.   In January 2021, FPATT also hosted a webinar series patterned after IPPF’s One Curriculum but tailored to the needs of the migrant community. The series featured FPATT’s team of clinical staff as well as experts in the fields of nutrition, self-defence and gender-based violence. “The response to both programmes is tremendous. The online access works well for our clients and we have developed such close relationships with them that we would love to expand our healthcare, but funding is often our major issue. We need sponsors to come on board, see how the programmes impact the people and help us continue to serve,” she states.  Ms. Chotalal looks forward to working with the Family Planning Association and helping communities that need their services the most.

ngelie Chotalal, Clinic Co-ordinator, manages programmes for FPATT’s 4 static clinics across the country.
story

| 21 June 2022

A Master and Matriarch among the Migrants

Never did she think that a job as Clinic Administrator would lead to a career that would change so many lives, but in 2007, Angelie Chotalal embarked on a path that would also change her life for good. Working at the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) in her late thirties, Angelie found joy in handling the administrative needs of the clinic, ensuring that the doctors and staff had all the resources to function at full capacity. She held that position for 3 years until she transferred into the vocation of Sessional Nurse, caring for the clients and clinic in a more hands-on role.  For the next 8 years, Angelie would devote her energy into education, becoming a Health and Family Life Education Master Trainer, as well as a Master Trainer in HIV Testing.  It was during this time that she also improved her bilingual skills; a decision that would prepare her for great success in the coming years.  “Hola! Como estás? Te ves bien,” she says as she greets a Venezuelan woman in the waiting area of the clinic. Her compassion is soothing and her smile is contagious. In her current role as Clinic Co-ordinator, Angelie has found herself having to be creative, innovative and still down-to-earth in the planning and execution of programmes for FPATT’s 4 static clinics across the country. The young migrant mothers of the clinic have come to know her as a matriarch, as she frequents the clinic floor always ready to attend to a new concern. “What makes them less than human?” Fleeing political oppression, lack of food and medicine and the downfall of the Venezuelan economy, over 40,000 Venezuelans have migrated to Trinidad to seek safer livelihoods. Many of them work to send most of their income home for the families they had to leave behind. “This here is my heartbeat. The work we do with the migrant community is dear to me because when I hear their stories, I know that there is so much more to be done. They are part of a population that has not received equal treatment. They’ve been put into a situation that they couldn’t expect and their only hope was to flee to this country where basic human rights are being withheld from them. What makes them less than human?” she asks, her visage pained with concern. Despite the influx of Venezuelans, Trinidad and Tobago’s migration policy has offered refugees very little access to healthcare and social services. However, FPATT’s mandate is to ensure that every person living within the borders of Trinidad and Tobago receive equal access to Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (SRH) and Angelie’s personal mission is to ensure that they receive the best treatment when they come to her clinic.  “In 2018, we started offering healthcare specifically for the migrants. We had to ensure that our staff were compatible with our vision, and it was more than being bilingual; we each had to be genuinely empathetic toward the community we were seeking to serve. We worked to remove bias, xenophobia and other ill perceptions from even our own lives,” she noted. “The community is so close knit, that word of our services spread quickly and very soon our clinic for migrants was up and running. They would come in and see that it was a safe space to share their experiences and we took the time to listen, because they wouldn’t get this safety anywhere else.”  Before the FPATT clinic, migrants who needed SRH healthcare have had to book appointments with private doctors who often charge more than the migrants can afford.  “They work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, get enough income to take care of their families here and those they’ve left behind. We’ve visited homes that house up to 10 migrant families, but it’s merely a shack with no running water or space to sleep. And then COVID hit,” she pauses pensively. “Incomes disappeared and so did options for housing; many of them were left homeless, so women who were already vulnerable were now being exploited. Imagine, your landlord asks you to pay for your rent with sex and a month later, brings his friends to cash in on the same favour, all because he knows you have nowhere else to live.”  Taking SRH Services online FPATT has offered all their regular healthcare services including gender-based violence counselling, birth control and emergency contraception to the migrant community. When Trinidad and Tobago entered a lockdown due to COVID protocols in 2020, FPATT approached the United Nations Population Fund for sponsorship to launch TeleHealth, an online medical consultation programme specifically for the migrant community. Through TeleHealth, clients are able to book 30-minute consultations with a clinical doctor and have their concerns addressed, ailments diagnosed and medicine prescribed, over WhatsApp video call.   In January 2021, FPATT also hosted a webinar series patterned after IPPF’s One Curriculum but tailored to the needs of the migrant community. The series featured FPATT’s team of clinical staff as well as experts in the fields of nutrition, self-defence and gender-based violence. “The response to both programmes is tremendous. The online access works well for our clients and we have developed such close relationships with them that we would love to expand our healthcare, but funding is often our major issue. We need sponsors to come on board, see how the programmes impact the people and help us continue to serve,” she states.  Ms. Chotalal looks forward to working with the Family Planning Association and helping communities that need their services the most.

lgbtq
story

| 04 May 2021

Navigating the LGBTQI Community to SRHR

In a country as diverse as Trinidad and Tobago, with 1.4 million varying hues and heritages, there still exists an arduous uphill climb for certain key populations. Conquering this apex of equality seems to be evasive as Government policy, general public perception and lack of education remain strong winds of opposition.  For persons like Brandy Rodriguez, Healthcare Navigator at the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), the struggle is both real and personal. In 1999, Brandy began her transition to womanhood and since 2006 has been working with FPATT in their HIV programme for the LGBTQI Community.   “Back in 2004, very little was said about HIV infection, transmission and prevention. In fact, if there was any information, it was misconstrued and meant to stigmatize the LGBTQI community. I was fairly new to the transgender community, so I made it a mission to research and find out the truths behind HIV and how I could protect myself. I then felt like I had to share what I found with others who were searching as well,” she said. That’s when FPATT asked Brandy to join their team in educating the LGBTQI community on the scope of healthcare that was available to them and guiding them to these resources within the public healthcare system. Since there was so much stigma surrounding the community, many of its members often stayed hidden under the shroud of comments that the gays and lesbians were the cause for the rise of HIV within Trinidad and Tobago. Even if a member of the LGBTQI community wanted to test for their HIV status, they would never dare to go into a public Health Centre, simply because of the fear of being judged by the healthcare professionals.  “It’s a simple case of this. When a transgender or non-binary person walks into a Health Centre or hospital, and the triage nurse has to fill in a form that asks for gender, the only two options there are Male and Female. So usually, the non-binary person knows that if they want to access that healthcare, free of judgement, they would have to dress as the gender that would bring the less undue attention. At the end of the day, the healthcare provider does not receive accurate information about the client, and the client doesn’t receive the scope of assessment and treatment that may be necessary. So part of what I do, is to simply accompany the client to the appointment so that it’s a less stressful experience and they don’t feel like they are alone,” says Brandy.    Advocating for greater support Apart from a great lack of healthcare professionals that are willing to treat with the LGBTQI community non-judgementally, the community also lacks social support. Most of the members of the community face barriers in housing and employment, which means that they are easily swayed into earning their livelihood as sex workers. Over 95% of skilled and employable persons within the LGBTQI community have turned to sex work because they are constantly denied employment within other industries.  “When I began my transition, I was fortunate to have the support of my family; they understood my heart and my need to be my authentic self. Not everyone has that support and so some either migrate or are left homeless because of the fact. Having to work within the sex industry means that they are now at greater risk for HIV or other STIs. My job as an Educator and Navigator is to promote condom use and ensure that they make use of FPATT’s regular HIV testing. If they do test positive, we then have that conversation about U=U, which means that if they (their HIV viral load) are undetectable, they will be untransferable, and then get them to that place of undetectability,” she states.  Brandy explains that being undetectable means that the client’s viral load is suppressed and they are living healthy lives. Since HIV infection has long been touted as a death sentence, the Educators work hard to ensure that 90% of persons who identify to be HIV Positive enrol in the FPATT Programme and 90% of those persons living with HIV (PLHIV) understand the importance of being adherent, through consistent treatment, healthy eating and rest. The Programme also offers sexual and reproductive health education on prevention against HIV re-infection and other STIs in the belief that SRHR interventions are preventative, cost effective, and would save lives and resources that would otherwise be spent on higher-level care. In addition, clients are navigated to medical practitioners and counsellors who can address issues of gender-based violence and mental health.  The Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago has for many years advocated for sexual and reproductive rights of the LGBTQI community, ensuring that it remains a safe place for HIV testing and counselling. It holds a vision of a world where gender or sexuality are no longer a source of inequality or stigma, which is why every year, FPATT offers a total of 920 tests, 48 group sessions and additional one-on-one sessions accessible by all persons living within Trinidad and Tobago.  Following an assessment by PAHO, FPATT is poised to become a full service HIV treatment site, offering antiretroviral treatment (ART) as well as psychosocial services for persons affected by HIV. The Association’s goal is to stop discrimination and stigma against PLHIV and ultimately end the spread of HIV within Trinidad and Tobago by 2030.   

lgbtq
story

| 22 June 2022

Navigating the LGBTQI Community to SRHR

In a country as diverse as Trinidad and Tobago, with 1.4 million varying hues and heritages, there still exists an arduous uphill climb for certain key populations. Conquering this apex of equality seems to be evasive as Government policy, general public perception and lack of education remain strong winds of opposition.  For persons like Brandy Rodriguez, Healthcare Navigator at the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), the struggle is both real and personal. In 1999, Brandy began her transition to womanhood and since 2006 has been working with FPATT in their HIV programme for the LGBTQI Community.   “Back in 2004, very little was said about HIV infection, transmission and prevention. In fact, if there was any information, it was misconstrued and meant to stigmatize the LGBTQI community. I was fairly new to the transgender community, so I made it a mission to research and find out the truths behind HIV and how I could protect myself. I then felt like I had to share what I found with others who were searching as well,” she said. That’s when FPATT asked Brandy to join their team in educating the LGBTQI community on the scope of healthcare that was available to them and guiding them to these resources within the public healthcare system. Since there was so much stigma surrounding the community, many of its members often stayed hidden under the shroud of comments that the gays and lesbians were the cause for the rise of HIV within Trinidad and Tobago. Even if a member of the LGBTQI community wanted to test for their HIV status, they would never dare to go into a public Health Centre, simply because of the fear of being judged by the healthcare professionals.  “It’s a simple case of this. When a transgender or non-binary person walks into a Health Centre or hospital, and the triage nurse has to fill in a form that asks for gender, the only two options there are Male and Female. So usually, the non-binary person knows that if they want to access that healthcare, free of judgement, they would have to dress as the gender that would bring the less undue attention. At the end of the day, the healthcare provider does not receive accurate information about the client, and the client doesn’t receive the scope of assessment and treatment that may be necessary. So part of what I do, is to simply accompany the client to the appointment so that it’s a less stressful experience and they don’t feel like they are alone,” says Brandy.    Advocating for greater support Apart from a great lack of healthcare professionals that are willing to treat with the LGBTQI community non-judgementally, the community also lacks social support. Most of the members of the community face barriers in housing and employment, which means that they are easily swayed into earning their livelihood as sex workers. Over 95% of skilled and employable persons within the LGBTQI community have turned to sex work because they are constantly denied employment within other industries.  “When I began my transition, I was fortunate to have the support of my family; they understood my heart and my need to be my authentic self. Not everyone has that support and so some either migrate or are left homeless because of the fact. Having to work within the sex industry means that they are now at greater risk for HIV or other STIs. My job as an Educator and Navigator is to promote condom use and ensure that they make use of FPATT’s regular HIV testing. If they do test positive, we then have that conversation about U=U, which means that if they (their HIV viral load) are undetectable, they will be untransferable, and then get them to that place of undetectability,” she states.  Brandy explains that being undetectable means that the client’s viral load is suppressed and they are living healthy lives. Since HIV infection has long been touted as a death sentence, the Educators work hard to ensure that 90% of persons who identify to be HIV Positive enrol in the FPATT Programme and 90% of those persons living with HIV (PLHIV) understand the importance of being adherent, through consistent treatment, healthy eating and rest. The Programme also offers sexual and reproductive health education on prevention against HIV re-infection and other STIs in the belief that SRHR interventions are preventative, cost effective, and would save lives and resources that would otherwise be spent on higher-level care. In addition, clients are navigated to medical practitioners and counsellors who can address issues of gender-based violence and mental health.  The Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago has for many years advocated for sexual and reproductive rights of the LGBTQI community, ensuring that it remains a safe place for HIV testing and counselling. It holds a vision of a world where gender or sexuality are no longer a source of inequality or stigma, which is why every year, FPATT offers a total of 920 tests, 48 group sessions and additional one-on-one sessions accessible by all persons living within Trinidad and Tobago.  Following an assessment by PAHO, FPATT is poised to become a full service HIV treatment site, offering antiretroviral treatment (ART) as well as psychosocial services for persons affected by HIV. The Association’s goal is to stop discrimination and stigma against PLHIV and ultimately end the spread of HIV within Trinidad and Tobago by 2030.   

With over 30 years of practicing medicine, Dr. Camejo specializes in gynecology, pediatrics and post-natal care but says that most of her migrant clients come in with a much wider range of ailments. 
story

| 04 May 2021

Medicine Online and On Time

At her desk in the small, quiet office, sits an extraordinary Cuban physician and educator, whose accolades are second to none. Today, she is neither writing nor teaching on the advances in medical science, but rather, she is focused on her mobile phone. Engaged in a video call, she listens attentively to the person with whom she speaks. She shuffles in her chair, only for a brief moment, as if to make herself more comfortable and even more attentive. To Dr. Camejo, this is not just a job, this is her way of being present for a community that is in dire need of her help.   Four days a week, Dr. Mabel Camejo conducts TeleHealth, a telemedicine service initiated by the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) specifically for the Venezuelan and Cuban migrant communities. Her clients consider this service a god-send, as it allows them to book 30-minute consultations over WhatsApp video call. During the call, Dr. Camejo assesses and diagnoses her clients’ illnesses and prescribes medication if needed. If the client needs to be examined, she refers them to the FPATT clinic for hands- on assessment.    “My patients love it here. Many of them just don’t have the money or time to come in to the clinic for an appointment. If they have to take time off from work and that means no income for the day, but it’s easy when they can pick up the phone and send a message or take a call to get the same advice or treatment,” she notes.   Dr. Camejo recalls how technology has advanced since her practice in Cuba over 10 years ago. “In Cuba, the doctors go to the patient’s home so that we can chat with the whole family about how they can help the patient recover – whether it means reducing stress in the home, or cooking with less salt or sugar. There, we have to be the doctor for the entire family. Here, now in Trinidad, we get to do the same with TeleHealth. On the consultation call, we can address the whole family so that everyone understands the recovery path forward,” she said. “When people need help, you just have to help” With over 30 years of practicing medicine, Dr. Camejo specializes in gynecology, pediatrics and post-natal care but says that most of her migrant clients come in with a much wider range of ailments.  “Breast cancer is one I see very often. Then there is polycystic ovaries, diabetes, vaginal infections and even osteoarthritis. These women have been managing chronic illnesses that need constant and consistent treatment but because they cannot get medicine in Venezuela, they have to leave what they know as home to come here to Trinidad. It’s their only chance to survive,” she lamented.   Current policies in Trinidad and Tobago have prevented the migrants from accessing the public health care system unless they need pre-natal or emergency healthcare, so many of them with existing chronic illnesses have no other choice but to seek private care, which can be almost half of their weekly salary. However, FPATT’s mandate is to fight for equal Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights for all persons living within the nation’s borders and that includes the communities that need it the most.  In January 2020, FPATT launched an 8-module Zoom series for the migrant community that focused on the topics that were most critical to helping them integrate into their new home and culture. The structure was based on the IPPF’s One Curriculum, but designed to suit the needs of Trinidad and Tobago’s unique context. Dr. Camejo spoke from her expertise in Sexual and Reproductive Health, highlighting the use of contraceptives for planned pregnancies and the importance of regular pap smears to reduce the risk of cervical cancer.  “It’s information that they desperately need. They are in a new country, everything is different, including the systems, the culture and the food. They appreciate faces and voices that are familiar, sharing information that could save their lives,” she said. “This is what I love to do as a doctor. Since I was a little girl in Havana, I would watch my father speaking to his clients and he would be so careful with them and they would be so grateful that he came to see them. I feel the same way when I get to share and communicate with my clients. When people need help, you just have to help.” Dr. Mabel Camejo has been with FPATT for over 3 years and looks forward to serving the local Venezuelans and Cubans as long as she can. A migrant herself, she understands the intrinsic and changing needs of this community and continues to help FPATT tailor its services to ensure that equal opportunities in sexual and reproductive healthcare are afforded to all.          

With over 30 years of practicing medicine, Dr. Camejo specializes in gynecology, pediatrics and post-natal care but says that most of her migrant clients come in with a much wider range of ailments. 
story

| 21 June 2022

Medicine Online and On Time

At her desk in the small, quiet office, sits an extraordinary Cuban physician and educator, whose accolades are second to none. Today, she is neither writing nor teaching on the advances in medical science, but rather, she is focused on her mobile phone. Engaged in a video call, she listens attentively to the person with whom she speaks. She shuffles in her chair, only for a brief moment, as if to make herself more comfortable and even more attentive. To Dr. Camejo, this is not just a job, this is her way of being present for a community that is in dire need of her help.   Four days a week, Dr. Mabel Camejo conducts TeleHealth, a telemedicine service initiated by the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) specifically for the Venezuelan and Cuban migrant communities. Her clients consider this service a god-send, as it allows them to book 30-minute consultations over WhatsApp video call. During the call, Dr. Camejo assesses and diagnoses her clients’ illnesses and prescribes medication if needed. If the client needs to be examined, she refers them to the FPATT clinic for hands- on assessment.    “My patients love it here. Many of them just don’t have the money or time to come in to the clinic for an appointment. If they have to take time off from work and that means no income for the day, but it’s easy when they can pick up the phone and send a message or take a call to get the same advice or treatment,” she notes.   Dr. Camejo recalls how technology has advanced since her practice in Cuba over 10 years ago. “In Cuba, the doctors go to the patient’s home so that we can chat with the whole family about how they can help the patient recover – whether it means reducing stress in the home, or cooking with less salt or sugar. There, we have to be the doctor for the entire family. Here, now in Trinidad, we get to do the same with TeleHealth. On the consultation call, we can address the whole family so that everyone understands the recovery path forward,” she said. “When people need help, you just have to help” With over 30 years of practicing medicine, Dr. Camejo specializes in gynecology, pediatrics and post-natal care but says that most of her migrant clients come in with a much wider range of ailments.  “Breast cancer is one I see very often. Then there is polycystic ovaries, diabetes, vaginal infections and even osteoarthritis. These women have been managing chronic illnesses that need constant and consistent treatment but because they cannot get medicine in Venezuela, they have to leave what they know as home to come here to Trinidad. It’s their only chance to survive,” she lamented.   Current policies in Trinidad and Tobago have prevented the migrants from accessing the public health care system unless they need pre-natal or emergency healthcare, so many of them with existing chronic illnesses have no other choice but to seek private care, which can be almost half of their weekly salary. However, FPATT’s mandate is to fight for equal Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights for all persons living within the nation’s borders and that includes the communities that need it the most.  In January 2020, FPATT launched an 8-module Zoom series for the migrant community that focused on the topics that were most critical to helping them integrate into their new home and culture. The structure was based on the IPPF’s One Curriculum, but designed to suit the needs of Trinidad and Tobago’s unique context. Dr. Camejo spoke from her expertise in Sexual and Reproductive Health, highlighting the use of contraceptives for planned pregnancies and the importance of regular pap smears to reduce the risk of cervical cancer.  “It’s information that they desperately need. They are in a new country, everything is different, including the systems, the culture and the food. They appreciate faces and voices that are familiar, sharing information that could save their lives,” she said. “This is what I love to do as a doctor. Since I was a little girl in Havana, I would watch my father speaking to his clients and he would be so careful with them and they would be so grateful that he came to see them. I feel the same way when I get to share and communicate with my clients. When people need help, you just have to help.” Dr. Mabel Camejo has been with FPATT for over 3 years and looks forward to serving the local Venezuelans and Cubans as long as she can. A migrant herself, she understands the intrinsic and changing needs of this community and continues to help FPATT tailor its services to ensure that equal opportunities in sexual and reproductive healthcare are afforded to all.          

disabilities
story

| 30 September 2020

Reaching young people with disabilities in Trinidad and Tobago

Trigger warning: this story contains details about sexual assualt Monique* shared with IPPF her experience as a young, disabled woman with a child:  "I was constantly raped by my father. I got pregnant. People thought I shouldn’t and couldn’t raise my son, but now he’s going to one of the best public schools." "I’m a mother. I’m a woman. People seem to think there’s something strange about me wanting to have sex or enjoying it. People with disabilities are made invisible and silent. They need encouragement in gaining confidence and becoming as self sufficient as possible. This programme has given me confidence. I’ll make sure that what I learned I’ll teach to others." In Trinidad and Tobago, many young people face challenges when it comes to accessing sexual and reproductive health services, but young people with disabilities face additional barriers due to stigmatization and social prejudices.  Young people with disabilities are often isolated and lack knowledge about sexual and reproductive health and rights. As a result, they can be vulnerable to sexual abuse. Rates of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections are high among young people with disabilities.  In Port of Spain and San Fernando, the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) set up 'Going Beyond the Walls' – a project to provide HIV testing and counselling to young people with disabilities. It offered a full range of other sexual and reproductive health services, from pap smears through to general counselling. They also organized seminars to sensitize young people to the issues faced by those with disabilities. Over 400 students attended educational sessions about people with disabilities and their sexual rights. Participants said their attitudes towards people with disabilities, and often towards themselves, had shifted significantly as a result of the project. They suggested that what they had learned should be communicated to everyone through campaigns, sensitization exercises and services. *Not her real name/image

disabilities
story

| 22 June 2022

Reaching young people with disabilities in Trinidad and Tobago

Trigger warning: this story contains details about sexual assualt Monique* shared with IPPF her experience as a young, disabled woman with a child:  "I was constantly raped by my father. I got pregnant. People thought I shouldn’t and couldn’t raise my son, but now he’s going to one of the best public schools." "I’m a mother. I’m a woman. People seem to think there’s something strange about me wanting to have sex or enjoying it. People with disabilities are made invisible and silent. They need encouragement in gaining confidence and becoming as self sufficient as possible. This programme has given me confidence. I’ll make sure that what I learned I’ll teach to others." In Trinidad and Tobago, many young people face challenges when it comes to accessing sexual and reproductive health services, but young people with disabilities face additional barriers due to stigmatization and social prejudices.  Young people with disabilities are often isolated and lack knowledge about sexual and reproductive health and rights. As a result, they can be vulnerable to sexual abuse. Rates of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections are high among young people with disabilities.  In Port of Spain and San Fernando, the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) set up 'Going Beyond the Walls' – a project to provide HIV testing and counselling to young people with disabilities. It offered a full range of other sexual and reproductive health services, from pap smears through to general counselling. They also organized seminars to sensitize young people to the issues faced by those with disabilities. Over 400 students attended educational sessions about people with disabilities and their sexual rights. Participants said their attitudes towards people with disabilities, and often towards themselves, had shifted significantly as a result of the project. They suggested that what they had learned should be communicated to everyone through campaigns, sensitization exercises and services. *Not her real name/image

trail
story

| 11 June 2021

The Migrant Experience: “They understand us and that is so hard to find”

Three million Venezuelans, fleeing a national crisis of economic depression and political oppression have found themselves seeking refuge in Latin America and the neighbouring islands of the Caribbean. About 40,000 of those have come to Trinidad and Tobago’s shores, with the hopes of finding a better life. Anything would be different from what they have left behind.  Neighbourhoods that once echoed the voices of playing children, were now riddled with the sounds of gunshots. Business places with broken store fronts, empty grocery and pharmacy shelves, elderly persons homeless and impoverished. Those with well-paying jobs could no longer make enough money to feed their families so walking the streets in your own neighbourhood put you at risk of kidnapping for menial ransoms.  This was the situation in Cumana Sucre that caused Marina Lopez to flee with her husband and two daughters in 2018. She was a preschool teacher and a good one at that. She loved the interaction she had with her students, seeing them grow in both knowledge and stature in their formative years, but it wasn’t enough to allay her fears of her own family’s survival.  As persons living with HIV, Marina and her teenaged daughter depended on constant access to medicine and healthcare, neither of which was still accessible. With daughters in tow, Marina and her husband braved the waters in search of new life in Trinidad.  About the same time, Ana Camacho, a young mother with dreams of migrating to Canada, said goodbye to her teary-eyed mother, sisters and 12-year-old daughter. She once held a good job as an administrator in Anaco, Venezuela, but when the company closed, she could no longer make the money needed to provide. A life in Canada seemed very promising and she and a friend decided that they would work for 3 months in Trinidad to gather the funds for the move up North. However, when she gained employment in Trinidad, her mother became ill and she was forced to postpone her plans and settle on the island in order to continue working.   “Everyone was so friendly and treated us like people” Both Marina and Ana can vividly recount the experiences that brought them to Trinidad 3 years ago. Today, they are both clients of the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) receiving care to meet their varying sexual and reproductive health needs.  “I was told about the Clinic from the UNHCR. They suggested that my daughter and I come here for treatment. When we got here everyone was so friendly and treated us like people. They understand us and that is so hard to find. They also referred us to the hospital in San Fernando for further treatment and it has been great since. We feel very comfortable here,” Marina disclosed. For 34-year-old Ana, her experience at FPATT is an interesting one. “When I first heard about the Clinic, I thought I would come in for a pap smear. I was in a new country, working and sending what I made back home for my family. I didn’t want to risk getting sick so I booked an appointment to get the test. When I came in, the nurses asked me if I was pregnant, and I said no, only to find out that I was. I was shocked, but I knew that the doctors and nurses at the clinic are good people and would take care of me during pregnancy. My son is now 14 months and now I come in for my contraceptive shot. I bring my son with me and everyone treats him like their own,” she says.  Ana was also a participant in the webinar series hosted by FPATT in January 2021. The 8-module Zoom series was based on IPPF’s One Curriculum, but designed to meet the specific needs of the migrant community. Although the series covered many topics including Nutrition, Gender-Based Violence and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, the one module that stood out for Ana was Self Defense.  “One day I was on my way to work in a taxi and I realized that the driver was not taking the route that other drivers do. I asked him where he was going and he wouldn’t answer me. I got very scared because I was in the taxi by myself. I started to shout at him and he still wouldn’t answer me until finally he stopped and I ran out of the taxi. I went to a police station and the officer asked me what I was doing alone in the taxi. I told him that I was trying to get to work. After that, I never worked again. It’s too risky. I wish I had seen that self-defense class before that evening,” she said.  Many migrants have had similar experiences to that of Ana’s. Incidences of sexual exploitation, gender-based violence, and xenophobia are rampant among the women in the community and so they are grateful for the refuge they find at FPATT. “In here, they genuinely look out for us,” Ana says, “and that’s different from how we are treated when we walk the street. They live up to their name as Family.”  

trail
story

| 21 June 2022

The Migrant Experience: “They understand us and that is so hard to find”

Three million Venezuelans, fleeing a national crisis of economic depression and political oppression have found themselves seeking refuge in Latin America and the neighbouring islands of the Caribbean. About 40,000 of those have come to Trinidad and Tobago’s shores, with the hopes of finding a better life. Anything would be different from what they have left behind.  Neighbourhoods that once echoed the voices of playing children, were now riddled with the sounds of gunshots. Business places with broken store fronts, empty grocery and pharmacy shelves, elderly persons homeless and impoverished. Those with well-paying jobs could no longer make enough money to feed their families so walking the streets in your own neighbourhood put you at risk of kidnapping for menial ransoms.  This was the situation in Cumana Sucre that caused Marina Lopez to flee with her husband and two daughters in 2018. She was a preschool teacher and a good one at that. She loved the interaction she had with her students, seeing them grow in both knowledge and stature in their formative years, but it wasn’t enough to allay her fears of her own family’s survival.  As persons living with HIV, Marina and her teenaged daughter depended on constant access to medicine and healthcare, neither of which was still accessible. With daughters in tow, Marina and her husband braved the waters in search of new life in Trinidad.  About the same time, Ana Camacho, a young mother with dreams of migrating to Canada, said goodbye to her teary-eyed mother, sisters and 12-year-old daughter. She once held a good job as an administrator in Anaco, Venezuela, but when the company closed, she could no longer make the money needed to provide. A life in Canada seemed very promising and she and a friend decided that they would work for 3 months in Trinidad to gather the funds for the move up North. However, when she gained employment in Trinidad, her mother became ill and she was forced to postpone her plans and settle on the island in order to continue working.   “Everyone was so friendly and treated us like people” Both Marina and Ana can vividly recount the experiences that brought them to Trinidad 3 years ago. Today, they are both clients of the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) receiving care to meet their varying sexual and reproductive health needs.  “I was told about the Clinic from the UNHCR. They suggested that my daughter and I come here for treatment. When we got here everyone was so friendly and treated us like people. They understand us and that is so hard to find. They also referred us to the hospital in San Fernando for further treatment and it has been great since. We feel very comfortable here,” Marina disclosed. For 34-year-old Ana, her experience at FPATT is an interesting one. “When I first heard about the Clinic, I thought I would come in for a pap smear. I was in a new country, working and sending what I made back home for my family. I didn’t want to risk getting sick so I booked an appointment to get the test. When I came in, the nurses asked me if I was pregnant, and I said no, only to find out that I was. I was shocked, but I knew that the doctors and nurses at the clinic are good people and would take care of me during pregnancy. My son is now 14 months and now I come in for my contraceptive shot. I bring my son with me and everyone treats him like their own,” she says.  Ana was also a participant in the webinar series hosted by FPATT in January 2021. The 8-module Zoom series was based on IPPF’s One Curriculum, but designed to meet the specific needs of the migrant community. Although the series covered many topics including Nutrition, Gender-Based Violence and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, the one module that stood out for Ana was Self Defense.  “One day I was on my way to work in a taxi and I realized that the driver was not taking the route that other drivers do. I asked him where he was going and he wouldn’t answer me. I got very scared because I was in the taxi by myself. I started to shout at him and he still wouldn’t answer me until finally he stopped and I ran out of the taxi. I went to a police station and the officer asked me what I was doing alone in the taxi. I told him that I was trying to get to work. After that, I never worked again. It’s too risky. I wish I had seen that self-defense class before that evening,” she said.  Many migrants have had similar experiences to that of Ana’s. Incidences of sexual exploitation, gender-based violence, and xenophobia are rampant among the women in the community and so they are grateful for the refuge they find at FPATT. “In here, they genuinely look out for us,” Ana says, “and that’s different from how we are treated when we walk the street. They live up to their name as Family.”  

trinidad
story

| 14 May 2021

Changing Mindsets Through Medicine & Motivation

“You work with people who have HIV? Why?”  That was the question asked to Dr. Gregory Boyce by the young intern that stood before him. He had come to the hospital ward to visit a client who was known to be living with HIV. He approached the intern at the desk and gave his name and designation. The intern looked at him, confused and somewhat amused and asked the question that he has neither forgotten, nor understood to this day.  However, this young intern’s question comes from a mindset that Dr. Boyce is working fervently to change. As Deputy Director of the Medical Research Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago (MRF), Dr. Boyce provides clinical as well as administrative support to a team of doctors and nurses whose daily vocation is to persons living with HIV. Due to MRF’s long-standing work in HIV research and healthcare, the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), has navigated many of its clients to Dr. Boyce and his team, especially clients from the LGBTQI community.  “Persons coming to us from key populations, have very layered needs. They are facing unique challenges in addition to living with the virus. There is still that myth that being HIV positive means that you will positively die. Added to that, there’s the discrimination that the community faces in every aspect of their lives on a daily basis. As a staff, we’ve had to seek special training to guide the way we interact with these clients so that we can meet all their needs appropriately and sensitively,” explains Dr. Boyce.  He continued “Apart from medical interventions which are needed to ensure that our clients continue to live healthy lives, we focus heavily on their psychosocial needs. It’s easy to think that because a client is physically healthy that they are also emotionally healthy. We have clients that won’t leave abusive relationships because they think no one else would accept them. We have other clients that are dealing with long-term medication fatigue because they have been taking pills for over 10 years. With that sometimes comes depression and other drug addictions, which is why it’s necessary for us to maintain open and honest relationships to address those accompanying issues.” Making HIV a non-issue Having worked with persons living with HIV for over 20 years, Dr. Boyce remembers the early days that led him to this specialization. He had worked at the Port of Spain General Hospital after graduating, during which time, medicine for persons living with HIV was expensive and out of reach for many. A few years later, through government programmes, medicine became more affordable, and treatment centers were opening up across the island. However, Dr. Boyce realized that the mortality rate had not changed by much. He wondered why people were still dying from a virus when medicine was easily accessible. That was when he decided to follow his heart and commit to helping persons with HIV understand that there is hope.  “That first conversation – giving a client the news that they’ve tested positive – is very important. We get to show them that HIV is not an impediment. Most times, with the wrong information, they start to draw up a list of things that they can no longer do, like go after a promotion or start a family. Then they go through life shrunken and unrecognizable, not the person they once were. So to answer that intern’s question about why I work with persons living with HIV: I want to make HIV a non-issue,” he states.   Dr. Boyce hopes to see HIV disclosure become as acceptable as other chronic illnesses such as cancer or diabetes, where an entire family would work towards caring for the affected person, instead of alienating them. He also hopes to see more inclusion and tolerance towards persons living with HIV, especially those within the LGBTQI community.  “Until a gay or transgender person can walk the streets freely and not be jeered at by passers-by, we still have a long way to go. Until they can access treatment at any public facility without fear or judgment, we have a lot of work to do. It would take a lot of education to change the stigma and discrimination but there is absolutely no reason why another person’s life should be miserable because their expression is different to ours,” he commented.  He commends the work of FPATT in upholding the sexual and reproductive health rights of the LGBTQI community, through ensuring that they have a safe and non-judgmental environment for HIV and other STI tests. He says that the Medical Research Foundation values the great relationship that the two organizations have had for years, even as FPATT works towards becoming its own full-service antiretroviral treatment site for persons living with HIV.  

trinidad
story

| 21 June 2022

Changing Mindsets Through Medicine & Motivation

“You work with people who have HIV? Why?”  That was the question asked to Dr. Gregory Boyce by the young intern that stood before him. He had come to the hospital ward to visit a client who was known to be living with HIV. He approached the intern at the desk and gave his name and designation. The intern looked at him, confused and somewhat amused and asked the question that he has neither forgotten, nor understood to this day.  However, this young intern’s question comes from a mindset that Dr. Boyce is working fervently to change. As Deputy Director of the Medical Research Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago (MRF), Dr. Boyce provides clinical as well as administrative support to a team of doctors and nurses whose daily vocation is to persons living with HIV. Due to MRF’s long-standing work in HIV research and healthcare, the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), has navigated many of its clients to Dr. Boyce and his team, especially clients from the LGBTQI community.  “Persons coming to us from key populations, have very layered needs. They are facing unique challenges in addition to living with the virus. There is still that myth that being HIV positive means that you will positively die. Added to that, there’s the discrimination that the community faces in every aspect of their lives on a daily basis. As a staff, we’ve had to seek special training to guide the way we interact with these clients so that we can meet all their needs appropriately and sensitively,” explains Dr. Boyce.  He continued “Apart from medical interventions which are needed to ensure that our clients continue to live healthy lives, we focus heavily on their psychosocial needs. It’s easy to think that because a client is physically healthy that they are also emotionally healthy. We have clients that won’t leave abusive relationships because they think no one else would accept them. We have other clients that are dealing with long-term medication fatigue because they have been taking pills for over 10 years. With that sometimes comes depression and other drug addictions, which is why it’s necessary for us to maintain open and honest relationships to address those accompanying issues.” Making HIV a non-issue Having worked with persons living with HIV for over 20 years, Dr. Boyce remembers the early days that led him to this specialization. He had worked at the Port of Spain General Hospital after graduating, during which time, medicine for persons living with HIV was expensive and out of reach for many. A few years later, through government programmes, medicine became more affordable, and treatment centers were opening up across the island. However, Dr. Boyce realized that the mortality rate had not changed by much. He wondered why people were still dying from a virus when medicine was easily accessible. That was when he decided to follow his heart and commit to helping persons with HIV understand that there is hope.  “That first conversation – giving a client the news that they’ve tested positive – is very important. We get to show them that HIV is not an impediment. Most times, with the wrong information, they start to draw up a list of things that they can no longer do, like go after a promotion or start a family. Then they go through life shrunken and unrecognizable, not the person they once were. So to answer that intern’s question about why I work with persons living with HIV: I want to make HIV a non-issue,” he states.   Dr. Boyce hopes to see HIV disclosure become as acceptable as other chronic illnesses such as cancer or diabetes, where an entire family would work towards caring for the affected person, instead of alienating them. He also hopes to see more inclusion and tolerance towards persons living with HIV, especially those within the LGBTQI community.  “Until a gay or transgender person can walk the streets freely and not be jeered at by passers-by, we still have a long way to go. Until they can access treatment at any public facility without fear or judgment, we have a lot of work to do. It would take a lot of education to change the stigma and discrimination but there is absolutely no reason why another person’s life should be miserable because their expression is different to ours,” he commented.  He commends the work of FPATT in upholding the sexual and reproductive health rights of the LGBTQI community, through ensuring that they have a safe and non-judgmental environment for HIV and other STI tests. He says that the Medical Research Foundation values the great relationship that the two organizations have had for years, even as FPATT works towards becoming its own full-service antiretroviral treatment site for persons living with HIV.  

ngelie Chotalal, Clinic Co-ordinator, manages programmes for FPATT’s 4 static clinics across the country.
story

| 11 May 2021

A Master and Matriarch among the Migrants

Never did she think that a job as Clinic Administrator would lead to a career that would change so many lives, but in 2007, Angelie Chotalal embarked on a path that would also change her life for good. Working at the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) in her late thirties, Angelie found joy in handling the administrative needs of the clinic, ensuring that the doctors and staff had all the resources to function at full capacity. She held that position for 3 years until she transferred into the vocation of Sessional Nurse, caring for the clients and clinic in a more hands-on role.  For the next 8 years, Angelie would devote her energy into education, becoming a Health and Family Life Education Master Trainer, as well as a Master Trainer in HIV Testing.  It was during this time that she also improved her bilingual skills; a decision that would prepare her for great success in the coming years.  “Hola! Como estás? Te ves bien,” she says as she greets a Venezuelan woman in the waiting area of the clinic. Her compassion is soothing and her smile is contagious. In her current role as Clinic Co-ordinator, Angelie has found herself having to be creative, innovative and still down-to-earth in the planning and execution of programmes for FPATT’s 4 static clinics across the country. The young migrant mothers of the clinic have come to know her as a matriarch, as she frequents the clinic floor always ready to attend to a new concern. “What makes them less than human?” Fleeing political oppression, lack of food and medicine and the downfall of the Venezuelan economy, over 40,000 Venezuelans have migrated to Trinidad to seek safer livelihoods. Many of them work to send most of their income home for the families they had to leave behind. “This here is my heartbeat. The work we do with the migrant community is dear to me because when I hear their stories, I know that there is so much more to be done. They are part of a population that has not received equal treatment. They’ve been put into a situation that they couldn’t expect and their only hope was to flee to this country where basic human rights are being withheld from them. What makes them less than human?” she asks, her visage pained with concern. Despite the influx of Venezuelans, Trinidad and Tobago’s migration policy has offered refugees very little access to healthcare and social services. However, FPATT’s mandate is to ensure that every person living within the borders of Trinidad and Tobago receive equal access to Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (SRH) and Angelie’s personal mission is to ensure that they receive the best treatment when they come to her clinic.  “In 2018, we started offering healthcare specifically for the migrants. We had to ensure that our staff were compatible with our vision, and it was more than being bilingual; we each had to be genuinely empathetic toward the community we were seeking to serve. We worked to remove bias, xenophobia and other ill perceptions from even our own lives,” she noted. “The community is so close knit, that word of our services spread quickly and very soon our clinic for migrants was up and running. They would come in and see that it was a safe space to share their experiences and we took the time to listen, because they wouldn’t get this safety anywhere else.”  Before the FPATT clinic, migrants who needed SRH healthcare have had to book appointments with private doctors who often charge more than the migrants can afford.  “They work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, get enough income to take care of their families here and those they’ve left behind. We’ve visited homes that house up to 10 migrant families, but it’s merely a shack with no running water or space to sleep. And then COVID hit,” she pauses pensively. “Incomes disappeared and so did options for housing; many of them were left homeless, so women who were already vulnerable were now being exploited. Imagine, your landlord asks you to pay for your rent with sex and a month later, brings his friends to cash in on the same favour, all because he knows you have nowhere else to live.”  Taking SRH Services online FPATT has offered all their regular healthcare services including gender-based violence counselling, birth control and emergency contraception to the migrant community. When Trinidad and Tobago entered a lockdown due to COVID protocols in 2020, FPATT approached the United Nations Population Fund for sponsorship to launch TeleHealth, an online medical consultation programme specifically for the migrant community. Through TeleHealth, clients are able to book 30-minute consultations with a clinical doctor and have their concerns addressed, ailments diagnosed and medicine prescribed, over WhatsApp video call.   In January 2021, FPATT also hosted a webinar series patterned after IPPF’s One Curriculum but tailored to the needs of the migrant community. The series featured FPATT’s team of clinical staff as well as experts in the fields of nutrition, self-defence and gender-based violence. “The response to both programmes is tremendous. The online access works well for our clients and we have developed such close relationships with them that we would love to expand our healthcare, but funding is often our major issue. We need sponsors to come on board, see how the programmes impact the people and help us continue to serve,” she states.  Ms. Chotalal looks forward to working with the Family Planning Association and helping communities that need their services the most.

ngelie Chotalal, Clinic Co-ordinator, manages programmes for FPATT’s 4 static clinics across the country.
story

| 21 June 2022

A Master and Matriarch among the Migrants

Never did she think that a job as Clinic Administrator would lead to a career that would change so many lives, but in 2007, Angelie Chotalal embarked on a path that would also change her life for good. Working at the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) in her late thirties, Angelie found joy in handling the administrative needs of the clinic, ensuring that the doctors and staff had all the resources to function at full capacity. She held that position for 3 years until she transferred into the vocation of Sessional Nurse, caring for the clients and clinic in a more hands-on role.  For the next 8 years, Angelie would devote her energy into education, becoming a Health and Family Life Education Master Trainer, as well as a Master Trainer in HIV Testing.  It was during this time that she also improved her bilingual skills; a decision that would prepare her for great success in the coming years.  “Hola! Como estás? Te ves bien,” she says as she greets a Venezuelan woman in the waiting area of the clinic. Her compassion is soothing and her smile is contagious. In her current role as Clinic Co-ordinator, Angelie has found herself having to be creative, innovative and still down-to-earth in the planning and execution of programmes for FPATT’s 4 static clinics across the country. The young migrant mothers of the clinic have come to know her as a matriarch, as she frequents the clinic floor always ready to attend to a new concern. “What makes them less than human?” Fleeing political oppression, lack of food and medicine and the downfall of the Venezuelan economy, over 40,000 Venezuelans have migrated to Trinidad to seek safer livelihoods. Many of them work to send most of their income home for the families they had to leave behind. “This here is my heartbeat. The work we do with the migrant community is dear to me because when I hear their stories, I know that there is so much more to be done. They are part of a population that has not received equal treatment. They’ve been put into a situation that they couldn’t expect and their only hope was to flee to this country where basic human rights are being withheld from them. What makes them less than human?” she asks, her visage pained with concern. Despite the influx of Venezuelans, Trinidad and Tobago’s migration policy has offered refugees very little access to healthcare and social services. However, FPATT’s mandate is to ensure that every person living within the borders of Trinidad and Tobago receive equal access to Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (SRH) and Angelie’s personal mission is to ensure that they receive the best treatment when they come to her clinic.  “In 2018, we started offering healthcare specifically for the migrants. We had to ensure that our staff were compatible with our vision, and it was more than being bilingual; we each had to be genuinely empathetic toward the community we were seeking to serve. We worked to remove bias, xenophobia and other ill perceptions from even our own lives,” she noted. “The community is so close knit, that word of our services spread quickly and very soon our clinic for migrants was up and running. They would come in and see that it was a safe space to share their experiences and we took the time to listen, because they wouldn’t get this safety anywhere else.”  Before the FPATT clinic, migrants who needed SRH healthcare have had to book appointments with private doctors who often charge more than the migrants can afford.  “They work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, get enough income to take care of their families here and those they’ve left behind. We’ve visited homes that house up to 10 migrant families, but it’s merely a shack with no running water or space to sleep. And then COVID hit,” she pauses pensively. “Incomes disappeared and so did options for housing; many of them were left homeless, so women who were already vulnerable were now being exploited. Imagine, your landlord asks you to pay for your rent with sex and a month later, brings his friends to cash in on the same favour, all because he knows you have nowhere else to live.”  Taking SRH Services online FPATT has offered all their regular healthcare services including gender-based violence counselling, birth control and emergency contraception to the migrant community. When Trinidad and Tobago entered a lockdown due to COVID protocols in 2020, FPATT approached the United Nations Population Fund for sponsorship to launch TeleHealth, an online medical consultation programme specifically for the migrant community. Through TeleHealth, clients are able to book 30-minute consultations with a clinical doctor and have their concerns addressed, ailments diagnosed and medicine prescribed, over WhatsApp video call.   In January 2021, FPATT also hosted a webinar series patterned after IPPF’s One Curriculum but tailored to the needs of the migrant community. The series featured FPATT’s team of clinical staff as well as experts in the fields of nutrition, self-defence and gender-based violence. “The response to both programmes is tremendous. The online access works well for our clients and we have developed such close relationships with them that we would love to expand our healthcare, but funding is often our major issue. We need sponsors to come on board, see how the programmes impact the people and help us continue to serve,” she states.  Ms. Chotalal looks forward to working with the Family Planning Association and helping communities that need their services the most.

lgbtq
story

| 04 May 2021

Navigating the LGBTQI Community to SRHR

In a country as diverse as Trinidad and Tobago, with 1.4 million varying hues and heritages, there still exists an arduous uphill climb for certain key populations. Conquering this apex of equality seems to be evasive as Government policy, general public perception and lack of education remain strong winds of opposition.  For persons like Brandy Rodriguez, Healthcare Navigator at the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), the struggle is both real and personal. In 1999, Brandy began her transition to womanhood and since 2006 has been working with FPATT in their HIV programme for the LGBTQI Community.   “Back in 2004, very little was said about HIV infection, transmission and prevention. In fact, if there was any information, it was misconstrued and meant to stigmatize the LGBTQI community. I was fairly new to the transgender community, so I made it a mission to research and find out the truths behind HIV and how I could protect myself. I then felt like I had to share what I found with others who were searching as well,” she said. That’s when FPATT asked Brandy to join their team in educating the LGBTQI community on the scope of healthcare that was available to them and guiding them to these resources within the public healthcare system. Since there was so much stigma surrounding the community, many of its members often stayed hidden under the shroud of comments that the gays and lesbians were the cause for the rise of HIV within Trinidad and Tobago. Even if a member of the LGBTQI community wanted to test for their HIV status, they would never dare to go into a public Health Centre, simply because of the fear of being judged by the healthcare professionals.  “It’s a simple case of this. When a transgender or non-binary person walks into a Health Centre or hospital, and the triage nurse has to fill in a form that asks for gender, the only two options there are Male and Female. So usually, the non-binary person knows that if they want to access that healthcare, free of judgement, they would have to dress as the gender that would bring the less undue attention. At the end of the day, the healthcare provider does not receive accurate information about the client, and the client doesn’t receive the scope of assessment and treatment that may be necessary. So part of what I do, is to simply accompany the client to the appointment so that it’s a less stressful experience and they don’t feel like they are alone,” says Brandy.    Advocating for greater support Apart from a great lack of healthcare professionals that are willing to treat with the LGBTQI community non-judgementally, the community also lacks social support. Most of the members of the community face barriers in housing and employment, which means that they are easily swayed into earning their livelihood as sex workers. Over 95% of skilled and employable persons within the LGBTQI community have turned to sex work because they are constantly denied employment within other industries.  “When I began my transition, I was fortunate to have the support of my family; they understood my heart and my need to be my authentic self. Not everyone has that support and so some either migrate or are left homeless because of the fact. Having to work within the sex industry means that they are now at greater risk for HIV or other STIs. My job as an Educator and Navigator is to promote condom use and ensure that they make use of FPATT’s regular HIV testing. If they do test positive, we then have that conversation about U=U, which means that if they (their HIV viral load) are undetectable, they will be untransferable, and then get them to that place of undetectability,” she states.  Brandy explains that being undetectable means that the client’s viral load is suppressed and they are living healthy lives. Since HIV infection has long been touted as a death sentence, the Educators work hard to ensure that 90% of persons who identify to be HIV Positive enrol in the FPATT Programme and 90% of those persons living with HIV (PLHIV) understand the importance of being adherent, through consistent treatment, healthy eating and rest. The Programme also offers sexual and reproductive health education on prevention against HIV re-infection and other STIs in the belief that SRHR interventions are preventative, cost effective, and would save lives and resources that would otherwise be spent on higher-level care. In addition, clients are navigated to medical practitioners and counsellors who can address issues of gender-based violence and mental health.  The Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago has for many years advocated for sexual and reproductive rights of the LGBTQI community, ensuring that it remains a safe place for HIV testing and counselling. It holds a vision of a world where gender or sexuality are no longer a source of inequality or stigma, which is why every year, FPATT offers a total of 920 tests, 48 group sessions and additional one-on-one sessions accessible by all persons living within Trinidad and Tobago.  Following an assessment by PAHO, FPATT is poised to become a full service HIV treatment site, offering antiretroviral treatment (ART) as well as psychosocial services for persons affected by HIV. The Association’s goal is to stop discrimination and stigma against PLHIV and ultimately end the spread of HIV within Trinidad and Tobago by 2030.   

lgbtq
story

| 22 June 2022

Navigating the LGBTQI Community to SRHR

In a country as diverse as Trinidad and Tobago, with 1.4 million varying hues and heritages, there still exists an arduous uphill climb for certain key populations. Conquering this apex of equality seems to be evasive as Government policy, general public perception and lack of education remain strong winds of opposition.  For persons like Brandy Rodriguez, Healthcare Navigator at the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), the struggle is both real and personal. In 1999, Brandy began her transition to womanhood and since 2006 has been working with FPATT in their HIV programme for the LGBTQI Community.   “Back in 2004, very little was said about HIV infection, transmission and prevention. In fact, if there was any information, it was misconstrued and meant to stigmatize the LGBTQI community. I was fairly new to the transgender community, so I made it a mission to research and find out the truths behind HIV and how I could protect myself. I then felt like I had to share what I found with others who were searching as well,” she said. That’s when FPATT asked Brandy to join their team in educating the LGBTQI community on the scope of healthcare that was available to them and guiding them to these resources within the public healthcare system. Since there was so much stigma surrounding the community, many of its members often stayed hidden under the shroud of comments that the gays and lesbians were the cause for the rise of HIV within Trinidad and Tobago. Even if a member of the LGBTQI community wanted to test for their HIV status, they would never dare to go into a public Health Centre, simply because of the fear of being judged by the healthcare professionals.  “It’s a simple case of this. When a transgender or non-binary person walks into a Health Centre or hospital, and the triage nurse has to fill in a form that asks for gender, the only two options there are Male and Female. So usually, the non-binary person knows that if they want to access that healthcare, free of judgement, they would have to dress as the gender that would bring the less undue attention. At the end of the day, the healthcare provider does not receive accurate information about the client, and the client doesn’t receive the scope of assessment and treatment that may be necessary. So part of what I do, is to simply accompany the client to the appointment so that it’s a less stressful experience and they don’t feel like they are alone,” says Brandy.    Advocating for greater support Apart from a great lack of healthcare professionals that are willing to treat with the LGBTQI community non-judgementally, the community also lacks social support. Most of the members of the community face barriers in housing and employment, which means that they are easily swayed into earning their livelihood as sex workers. Over 95% of skilled and employable persons within the LGBTQI community have turned to sex work because they are constantly denied employment within other industries.  “When I began my transition, I was fortunate to have the support of my family; they understood my heart and my need to be my authentic self. Not everyone has that support and so some either migrate or are left homeless because of the fact. Having to work within the sex industry means that they are now at greater risk for HIV or other STIs. My job as an Educator and Navigator is to promote condom use and ensure that they make use of FPATT’s regular HIV testing. If they do test positive, we then have that conversation about U=U, which means that if they (their HIV viral load) are undetectable, they will be untransferable, and then get them to that place of undetectability,” she states.  Brandy explains that being undetectable means that the client’s viral load is suppressed and they are living healthy lives. Since HIV infection has long been touted as a death sentence, the Educators work hard to ensure that 90% of persons who identify to be HIV Positive enrol in the FPATT Programme and 90% of those persons living with HIV (PLHIV) understand the importance of being adherent, through consistent treatment, healthy eating and rest. The Programme also offers sexual and reproductive health education on prevention against HIV re-infection and other STIs in the belief that SRHR interventions are preventative, cost effective, and would save lives and resources that would otherwise be spent on higher-level care. In addition, clients are navigated to medical practitioners and counsellors who can address issues of gender-based violence and mental health.  The Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago has for many years advocated for sexual and reproductive rights of the LGBTQI community, ensuring that it remains a safe place for HIV testing and counselling. It holds a vision of a world where gender or sexuality are no longer a source of inequality or stigma, which is why every year, FPATT offers a total of 920 tests, 48 group sessions and additional one-on-one sessions accessible by all persons living within Trinidad and Tobago.  Following an assessment by PAHO, FPATT is poised to become a full service HIV treatment site, offering antiretroviral treatment (ART) as well as psychosocial services for persons affected by HIV. The Association’s goal is to stop discrimination and stigma against PLHIV and ultimately end the spread of HIV within Trinidad and Tobago by 2030.   

With over 30 years of practicing medicine, Dr. Camejo specializes in gynecology, pediatrics and post-natal care but says that most of her migrant clients come in with a much wider range of ailments. 
story

| 04 May 2021

Medicine Online and On Time

At her desk in the small, quiet office, sits an extraordinary Cuban physician and educator, whose accolades are second to none. Today, she is neither writing nor teaching on the advances in medical science, but rather, she is focused on her mobile phone. Engaged in a video call, she listens attentively to the person with whom she speaks. She shuffles in her chair, only for a brief moment, as if to make herself more comfortable and even more attentive. To Dr. Camejo, this is not just a job, this is her way of being present for a community that is in dire need of her help.   Four days a week, Dr. Mabel Camejo conducts TeleHealth, a telemedicine service initiated by the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) specifically for the Venezuelan and Cuban migrant communities. Her clients consider this service a god-send, as it allows them to book 30-minute consultations over WhatsApp video call. During the call, Dr. Camejo assesses and diagnoses her clients’ illnesses and prescribes medication if needed. If the client needs to be examined, she refers them to the FPATT clinic for hands- on assessment.    “My patients love it here. Many of them just don’t have the money or time to come in to the clinic for an appointment. If they have to take time off from work and that means no income for the day, but it’s easy when they can pick up the phone and send a message or take a call to get the same advice or treatment,” she notes.   Dr. Camejo recalls how technology has advanced since her practice in Cuba over 10 years ago. “In Cuba, the doctors go to the patient’s home so that we can chat with the whole family about how they can help the patient recover – whether it means reducing stress in the home, or cooking with less salt or sugar. There, we have to be the doctor for the entire family. Here, now in Trinidad, we get to do the same with TeleHealth. On the consultation call, we can address the whole family so that everyone understands the recovery path forward,” she said. “When people need help, you just have to help” With over 30 years of practicing medicine, Dr. Camejo specializes in gynecology, pediatrics and post-natal care but says that most of her migrant clients come in with a much wider range of ailments.  “Breast cancer is one I see very often. Then there is polycystic ovaries, diabetes, vaginal infections and even osteoarthritis. These women have been managing chronic illnesses that need constant and consistent treatment but because they cannot get medicine in Venezuela, they have to leave what they know as home to come here to Trinidad. It’s their only chance to survive,” she lamented.   Current policies in Trinidad and Tobago have prevented the migrants from accessing the public health care system unless they need pre-natal or emergency healthcare, so many of them with existing chronic illnesses have no other choice but to seek private care, which can be almost half of their weekly salary. However, FPATT’s mandate is to fight for equal Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights for all persons living within the nation’s borders and that includes the communities that need it the most.  In January 2020, FPATT launched an 8-module Zoom series for the migrant community that focused on the topics that were most critical to helping them integrate into their new home and culture. The structure was based on the IPPF’s One Curriculum, but designed to suit the needs of Trinidad and Tobago’s unique context. Dr. Camejo spoke from her expertise in Sexual and Reproductive Health, highlighting the use of contraceptives for planned pregnancies and the importance of regular pap smears to reduce the risk of cervical cancer.  “It’s information that they desperately need. They are in a new country, everything is different, including the systems, the culture and the food. They appreciate faces and voices that are familiar, sharing information that could save their lives,” she said. “This is what I love to do as a doctor. Since I was a little girl in Havana, I would watch my father speaking to his clients and he would be so careful with them and they would be so grateful that he came to see them. I feel the same way when I get to share and communicate with my clients. When people need help, you just have to help.” Dr. Mabel Camejo has been with FPATT for over 3 years and looks forward to serving the local Venezuelans and Cubans as long as she can. A migrant herself, she understands the intrinsic and changing needs of this community and continues to help FPATT tailor its services to ensure that equal opportunities in sexual and reproductive healthcare are afforded to all.          

With over 30 years of practicing medicine, Dr. Camejo specializes in gynecology, pediatrics and post-natal care but says that most of her migrant clients come in with a much wider range of ailments. 
story

| 21 June 2022

Medicine Online and On Time

At her desk in the small, quiet office, sits an extraordinary Cuban physician and educator, whose accolades are second to none. Today, she is neither writing nor teaching on the advances in medical science, but rather, she is focused on her mobile phone. Engaged in a video call, she listens attentively to the person with whom she speaks. She shuffles in her chair, only for a brief moment, as if to make herself more comfortable and even more attentive. To Dr. Camejo, this is not just a job, this is her way of being present for a community that is in dire need of her help.   Four days a week, Dr. Mabel Camejo conducts TeleHealth, a telemedicine service initiated by the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) specifically for the Venezuelan and Cuban migrant communities. Her clients consider this service a god-send, as it allows them to book 30-minute consultations over WhatsApp video call. During the call, Dr. Camejo assesses and diagnoses her clients’ illnesses and prescribes medication if needed. If the client needs to be examined, she refers them to the FPATT clinic for hands- on assessment.    “My patients love it here. Many of them just don’t have the money or time to come in to the clinic for an appointment. If they have to take time off from work and that means no income for the day, but it’s easy when they can pick up the phone and send a message or take a call to get the same advice or treatment,” she notes.   Dr. Camejo recalls how technology has advanced since her practice in Cuba over 10 years ago. “In Cuba, the doctors go to the patient’s home so that we can chat with the whole family about how they can help the patient recover – whether it means reducing stress in the home, or cooking with less salt or sugar. There, we have to be the doctor for the entire family. Here, now in Trinidad, we get to do the same with TeleHealth. On the consultation call, we can address the whole family so that everyone understands the recovery path forward,” she said. “When people need help, you just have to help” With over 30 years of practicing medicine, Dr. Camejo specializes in gynecology, pediatrics and post-natal care but says that most of her migrant clients come in with a much wider range of ailments.  “Breast cancer is one I see very often. Then there is polycystic ovaries, diabetes, vaginal infections and even osteoarthritis. These women have been managing chronic illnesses that need constant and consistent treatment but because they cannot get medicine in Venezuela, they have to leave what they know as home to come here to Trinidad. It’s their only chance to survive,” she lamented.   Current policies in Trinidad and Tobago have prevented the migrants from accessing the public health care system unless they need pre-natal or emergency healthcare, so many of them with existing chronic illnesses have no other choice but to seek private care, which can be almost half of their weekly salary. However, FPATT’s mandate is to fight for equal Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights for all persons living within the nation’s borders and that includes the communities that need it the most.  In January 2020, FPATT launched an 8-module Zoom series for the migrant community that focused on the topics that were most critical to helping them integrate into their new home and culture. The structure was based on the IPPF’s One Curriculum, but designed to suit the needs of Trinidad and Tobago’s unique context. Dr. Camejo spoke from her expertise in Sexual and Reproductive Health, highlighting the use of contraceptives for planned pregnancies and the importance of regular pap smears to reduce the risk of cervical cancer.  “It’s information that they desperately need. They are in a new country, everything is different, including the systems, the culture and the food. They appreciate faces and voices that are familiar, sharing information that could save their lives,” she said. “This is what I love to do as a doctor. Since I was a little girl in Havana, I would watch my father speaking to his clients and he would be so careful with them and they would be so grateful that he came to see them. I feel the same way when I get to share and communicate with my clients. When people need help, you just have to help.” Dr. Mabel Camejo has been with FPATT for over 3 years and looks forward to serving the local Venezuelans and Cubans as long as she can. A migrant herself, she understands the intrinsic and changing needs of this community and continues to help FPATT tailor its services to ensure that equal opportunities in sexual and reproductive healthcare are afforded to all.          

disabilities
story

| 30 September 2020

Reaching young people with disabilities in Trinidad and Tobago

Trigger warning: this story contains details about sexual assualt Monique* shared with IPPF her experience as a young, disabled woman with a child:  "I was constantly raped by my father. I got pregnant. People thought I shouldn’t and couldn’t raise my son, but now he’s going to one of the best public schools." "I’m a mother. I’m a woman. People seem to think there’s something strange about me wanting to have sex or enjoying it. People with disabilities are made invisible and silent. They need encouragement in gaining confidence and becoming as self sufficient as possible. This programme has given me confidence. I’ll make sure that what I learned I’ll teach to others." In Trinidad and Tobago, many young people face challenges when it comes to accessing sexual and reproductive health services, but young people with disabilities face additional barriers due to stigmatization and social prejudices.  Young people with disabilities are often isolated and lack knowledge about sexual and reproductive health and rights. As a result, they can be vulnerable to sexual abuse. Rates of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections are high among young people with disabilities.  In Port of Spain and San Fernando, the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) set up 'Going Beyond the Walls' – a project to provide HIV testing and counselling to young people with disabilities. It offered a full range of other sexual and reproductive health services, from pap smears through to general counselling. They also organized seminars to sensitize young people to the issues faced by those with disabilities. Over 400 students attended educational sessions about people with disabilities and their sexual rights. Participants said their attitudes towards people with disabilities, and often towards themselves, had shifted significantly as a result of the project. They suggested that what they had learned should be communicated to everyone through campaigns, sensitization exercises and services. *Not her real name/image

disabilities
story

| 22 June 2022

Reaching young people with disabilities in Trinidad and Tobago

Trigger warning: this story contains details about sexual assualt Monique* shared with IPPF her experience as a young, disabled woman with a child:  "I was constantly raped by my father. I got pregnant. People thought I shouldn’t and couldn’t raise my son, but now he’s going to one of the best public schools." "I’m a mother. I’m a woman. People seem to think there’s something strange about me wanting to have sex or enjoying it. People with disabilities are made invisible and silent. They need encouragement in gaining confidence and becoming as self sufficient as possible. This programme has given me confidence. I’ll make sure that what I learned I’ll teach to others." In Trinidad and Tobago, many young people face challenges when it comes to accessing sexual and reproductive health services, but young people with disabilities face additional barriers due to stigmatization and social prejudices.  Young people with disabilities are often isolated and lack knowledge about sexual and reproductive health and rights. As a result, they can be vulnerable to sexual abuse. Rates of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections are high among young people with disabilities.  In Port of Spain and San Fernando, the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT) set up 'Going Beyond the Walls' – a project to provide HIV testing and counselling to young people with disabilities. It offered a full range of other sexual and reproductive health services, from pap smears through to general counselling. They also organized seminars to sensitize young people to the issues faced by those with disabilities. Over 400 students attended educational sessions about people with disabilities and their sexual rights. Participants said their attitudes towards people with disabilities, and often towards themselves, had shifted significantly as a result of the project. They suggested that what they had learned should be communicated to everyone through campaigns, sensitization exercises and services. *Not her real name/image