NASTAD Global Supports Data for Action in Central America, Part II

By Luisa Pessoa- Brandão October 23, 2015

In order for a country to have the ability to effectively respond to their HIV epidemic, quality data must be available, reviewed, and used to generate that response. Epidemiological surveillance data define where the greatest needs and gaps are so that government knows what to do, where, and when. Having strong systems and process in place that can generate reliable data in a routine manner—and human resources to use and manage them—ensures that evidence-based public health interventions can be planned to “do the right things, in the right places, at the right time.”

NASTAD Global is supporting four countries in Central America, Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Panama, to strengthen and institutionalize their surveillance methods such that epidemiological trends can be assessed and critical HIV service and program gaps can be identified and addressed. This is the second post in a two-part series on NASTAD Global's many surveillance related activities throughout the region. 


Guatemala is the most populous country in the Central America region, with a population of about 15 million. In part because such a large proportion of its population is of reproductive age (nearly half of Guatemala’s population is under the age of 19) Guatemala also has the highest population growth rate in Central America. Among adults aged 15-49, the HIV prevalence is 0.5%, and an estimated 50,000 people are living with HIV throughout the country.

The National Center for Epidemiology, or Centro Nacional de Epidemiologia (CNE), identified data quality as a critical gap in the country’s efforts to use HIV surveillance data for program planning and improvement. CNE, UNAIDS, and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) are partnering with NASTAD Global to develop and implement training curricula for regional epidemiologists and clinical staff to improve the quality of the data being reported to and generated by the national HIV case surveillance system.   

CNE also sought NASTAD Global support in addressing an additional gap in the HIV case surveillance system: confirming HIV-related deaths. In Guatemala, as in many other countries, vital statistics are housed in a database separate from the HIV case surveillance database, making it difficult to determine when PLHIV have died. What is more, the cause of death listed when a person living with HIV dies often varies, making the tracking of deaths from an HIV case surveillance perspective more challenging. NASTAD Global will partner with CNE and PAHO to further assess this issue and understand its effect on the HIV Care Continuum in Guatemala.

These initiatives to strengthen HIV case surveillance data quality generally, with a particular emphasis on death data, will enable the Ministry of Health to more accurately profile HIV impact and need in Guatemala.


At the Southernmost point of Central America, Panama provides the link between Central and South America, and, by way of its famous 80 kilometer canal, also links the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Today it is in many ways a country in transition, with one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America, while many of its 3.7 million people continue to live in poverty. An estimated 17,000 people are living with HIV in Panama, and the HIV prevalence among adults aged 15-49 is 0.6%.

The Statistics and Epidemiology Unit at the Panama Ministry of Health (MoH) invited NASTAD Global staff and TA provider Melissa Boyette, the HIV Surveillance Coordinator at the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to Panama to review the HIV module. The NASTAD Global team determined that the module was missing key data elements and functionality for HIV surveillance. They agreed that the module will need to be modified before it is implemented, in order to ensure that the HIV surveillance data being collected is useful for measuring and monitoring trends in the HIV epidemic.  

The Statistics and Epidemiology Unit also sought NASTAD Global’s support in strengthening HIV reporting, in particular the completion of the case notification form and the elicitation of risk behavior information. NASTAD Global has begun to develop a training curricula to be implemented in late 2015, in order to strengthen these critical components of HIV case reporting. Together, these activities will build the capacity of the Statistics and Epidemiology Unit at the MoH to effectively use a data-driven approach to strategically target geographic areas and populations most affected by the HIV.

If you are interested in learning more about NASTAD Global’s efforts supporting data for action in the Central America region, please contact Luisa Pessoa-Brandao.

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