HIV-related philanthropy to the Caribbean in 2021:
As a complement to Philanthropic Support to Address HIV and AIDS in 2021, this regional profile provides a new level of data to help inform the advocacy of funders and communities active in the region. To spotlight the important role of funding for sex workers, FCAA invited a grantee perspective from the Suriname Collection of Sex Workers (SUCOS)—a grantee of Red Umbrella Fund—in Suriname.
Suriname Collection of Sex Workers (SUCOS)
The Suriname Collection of Sex Workers (SUCOS), officially named the Denise Carr Foundation, is a sex worker-led organization for female, male, and transgender sex workers. In a country where sex workers represent roughly 11% of HIV prevalence, the organization advocates for sex workers’ rights through education, awareness, advocacy campaigns, and capacity-building activities to recognize and respect that sex work is work in order to reduce stigmatization and remove barriers from social rights.
The Caribbean has the highest HIV prevalence rate outside of Sub-Saharan Africa among people aged 15 to 49 years. The majority of new HIV infections occur among key populations and their sexual partners. However, it is hard to fully analyze the nature of the epidemic due to a lack of reliable and comprehensive surveillance data. A variety of social factors have perpetuated the spread and worsened the severity of HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean. Many people are at increased risk of HIV infection because of their social vulnerability arising from poverty, illiteracy/limited education, unemployment, gender inequality, and sexual orientation. The region is also home to high rates of gender-based violence, stigma, and discrimination as well as continued criminalization of same-sex relationships in a number of countries.
Suriname is a small Caribbean country (under 165,000 square kilometers/4,000 square miles) bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Guyana, French Guiana, and Brazil. Suriname has an overall population of roughly 632,000, and HIV and AIDS remain one of the leading causes of mortality there, with a rate of 14.9 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017, and 1.5 times more men dying when compared to women. Among new diagnoses, the male to female ratio was 1-to-1 in 2017. More complete and recent population, treatment, and viral suppression data is not available.
SUCOS has been a grantee partner of Red Umbrella Fund—the first and only global fund dedicated to supporting the rights of sex workers—since 2017. SUCOS was founded in 2015 to unite diverse sex workers, including trans people, migrant sex workers, and people living with HIV and AIDS. Since 2017, the organization has received three grants from Red Umbrella Fund, including a current two-year core flexible grant that ends in December 2023. Red Umbrella Fund also supported SUCOS as a new, unregistered organization, helping to build our capacity to manage grants and provide services. The organization’s director is now also one of eight sex workers’ rights activists that sits on Red Umbrella Fund’s International Steering Committee.
This type of support is all the more critical when HIV-related philanthropy to organizations in Suriname totaled less than $40,000 and support for sex workers in the entire region amounted to $393,000 in 2021.
SUCOS has successfully leveraged flexible funding to support the sex worker community impacted by HIV by setting up awareness campaign/information booths; offering peer support groups and peer-to-peer outreach to distribute condoms and lubricants; providing social assistance to empower sex worker communities with care packages, food vouchers, and rent support; and capacity-building training focused on HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.
SUCOS also encourages funders to consider intersectional efforts that can support vulnerable populations, including poverty alleviation projects that can help families survive and efforts to help migrants who need to be linked to care and treatment.