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Nov 28, 2005

Doctors and nurses discuss HIV/AIDS exposure

Story PictureIt’s a side of the war against HIV and AIDS that we don’t often hear about…the constant exposure doctors and nurses face by simply doing their jobs. Today, health care professionals from throughout the country gathered in Belize City to discuss the latest techniques in handling blood specimens to ensure accurate, reliable results. But as News Five’s Janelle Chanona found out, even among these trained men and women, while there is a real fear of becoming infected, advances in the medical field has made working under less than ideal conditions much more comfortable.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
For the past fifteen years, Nurse Guillermina Heredia has been working with HIV patients in Belize. But this past September, she had a close call while on a home visit.

Guillermina Heredia, Nurse
?We could be sticked not only by needles, but by other objects. I had an incident that happened to be that I was sticked with a thorn that people usually use it culturally, to bleed the veins of their hands and also the head. And I did a home visit and I sat on it by accident. So accidents do happen, not only at the workplace, but also out of the workplace.?

?I couldn?t say that I feel comfortable but also, it?s part of my job, I see it like that. I know that it could have happened any time, so I am just waiting for the results any time. After December, I have to repeat my test.?

Belize City Nurse Allison Williams knows what Nurse Heredia is going through. Six years ago, she experienced a similar incident.

Allison Williams, Nurse, Port Loyola Health Centre
?I can remember back in 1998/99 thereabout, I had a scary accident whereby I got stuck with a needle and actually this person was HIV positive and at that point in time I didn?t know what exactly to do. But today with the different protocols being put in place, there are things that we should know what we should do. But as I said, back then I didn?t know exactly what to do and it?s very difficult for you to get stuck and have to live with getting the virus from that person that you actually had extracted the blood from.?

And according to Williams, in today?s reality, every aspect of health care in Belize might have life long ramifications.

Nurse Allison Williams
?You know when you are delivering a baby you have the liquid, the fluid that comes out, let?s say for example that person is HIV positive and that liquid should get into your eyes, there is a chance that you could become infected from that person. So there are things that we need to have to do a delivery, like for example, goggles, long aprons.?

?For me, in my area, of course we do not have goggles and so on because I do take my own samples, and I do my own testing, but I?m more cautious now than ever before.?

Dr. Evadne Williams, Dir., Lab Services, Jamaica
?I think throughout the region you will find people who have that fear.?

There are no studies to show the number of Caribbean health workers that have become infected on the job, but according to the Director of Laboratory Services in Jamaica, Dr. Evadne Williams, in cases of accidental exposure, the doctors and nurses of today have far more options available to them than their predecessors.

Dr. Evadne Williams
?The prophylactic treatment is there, it?s there to prevent persons getting infected and it is important that we embrace that mode of treatment because remember, that once you are infected with HIV, you are infected for life. And not only that, but it damages your immune system and it makes you susceptible to so many things. And in the same way that we have give this therapy to women who are HIV positive and pregnant to prevent the virus from being transmitted to the child, that has been shown to work very well. And so I think it?s something that the health care worker especially, who is at higher risk because of the work that we do, I think it?s important that they embrace that mode of prophylactic.?

According to the Belize Social Security Board, health care professionals who become infected with HIV on the job receive post-exposure treatment under the employment injury package.

Yolanda Simon, C.E.O., Caribbean Regional Network of PLWHA
?All of us are living with HIV/AIDS, some infected, but certainly, all of us affected.?

Yolanda Simon is head of the Caribbean Regional Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS. Simon says without the integral participation of infected persons, a shift in attitudes towards HIV/AIDS will continue to elude the region.

Yolanda Simon
?The people who are living with the virus, needs to be included and involved in a meaningful way. Now everybody says, ?who are the people, where are there, we want them to come out.? But come out to what? There are no support systems in place. We are advocating for developing and enabling environments which is that if you come to me, I?m a health care provider, whether I?m a psychologist, the doctor, or the nurse and you says, Yolanda, I have a diagnosis or I have AIDS. I should be able to say, okay, this is where you can get counselling, if you need support for housing this is where you get support for housing. If you are employed and you?ve been dismissed, there is some sort of support. But in the absence of no legal or ethical framework, no political will, issues of confidentiality, people are going to stay underground. Because people out there, believe or not, all the people living with HIV/AIDS in Belize want to come out, they want to, which is what you all want. But they are not going to come out simply to say, my name is and I have HIV/AIDS. And what next? Nobody gives a damn. So somebody better begin to demonstrate they care.?

Simon’s visit to Belize is part of a workshop sponsored by the Pan American Health Organization, the Ministry of Health, the National AIDS Commission, and the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre to discuss the economic impact of HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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