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Jun 24, 2016

National Aids Commission Holds Countrywide HIV Testing

The number of persons that are HIV positive is high for the size of the population. And even though men are the most affected; they are the least to be tested. The National AIDS Commission carried out testing across the country with the support of Scotiabank and PANCAP. The aim is to wipe out the disease by 2030. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

Simultaneous testing stations were today set up across the country as Belize participated for the fifth time in a row in the Caribbean Regional HIV Testing Day initiative. Led by the local National AIDS Commission, the event is being held under the theme, “Increasing Testing to Create Change.” The idea is to challenge the pervasiveness of the disease in an effort to end the epidemic by 2030.

 

Arthur Usher

Arthur Usher, Communication and Programs Officer, National Aids Commission

“It’s nationwide; we have sites throughout the country from nine to three today. These are the stationary sites; we also have mobile sites…BFLA and PASMO are going to businesses that target men. And we also have mobile sites targeting specific populations throughout the day. Again we are trying to do a gamut ray of the population to get a true picture of what HIV is in Belize.”

 

Coming out in support of the event today were the Belize Family Life Association and PASMO Belize; both on a daily basis allow for residents to get tested at their offices. Providing educational tools as well as information on the disease and best sexual practices, PASMO’s campaign targets, but is not limited to the MSM group, men who have sex with men.

 

Kieron Cacho

Kieron Cacho, Programs Coordinator, PASMO Belize

“Over the years the message, we have been targeting specifically the MSM population, men having sex with men population, specifically because we’ve seen an increase. There has been an M.O.T. study which was presented by the Ministry of Health that suggested that that population is one of the key populations that we will continue to see an increase of HIV infections. So for us to be relevant, we have been doing a lot of tailored interventions whereby either we open our office to provide testing at our facility or we’ve done a lot of mobile testing…literally get in a van and locating these individuals to take the test and to let them know exactly what are the procedures in terms of following up.”

 

As it currently stands, one point two percent of Belizeans, that’s over three thousand two hundred and seventy-five persons, have been clinically diagnosed as being HIV positive, but the real number is uncertain because of the stigma associated with the disease. According to the 2015 data of the Ministry of Health; Belize City, Cayo and Stann Creek are also the three districts with the highest prevalence of the disease.

 

Arthur Usher

“It’s still pretty high for the country. Our prevalence rate is about one point two percent which is very high, but these factors need to be taken into place. When we throw out numbers sometimes people are a bit irresponsible. But our population is about three hundred and sixty thousand so in terms of where we are, we have taken down the prevalence rate from about one point four to one point two. So we are getting there; it’s a positive step. We are moving. I think the Belizean public is more aware of HIV; they are more aware of aware of their health and sexual health.”

 

But there are still more women than men getting tested; for today’s testing day, men were encouraged to come out.

 

Arthur Usher

“The situation is still two for one basically; twice as many women come out than men and again that is probably culturally in terms of the health seeking behaviors. We all know that men are a bit less prone to saying, I feel sick or I am going to the doctor generally. So when it comes to something like HIV, there is even more stigma and discrimination attached to it; so they probably won’t come out. What the NAC has been doing is going to these men. So we find the time to go to where there are male dominated job sites like C.P.B.L., B.E.L., Bowen and Bowen, these areas and we go and do testing there. Other than that, for today, we also have a “Bring A Man” campaign. If you bring three or more men to get tested, you get a small prize from the NAC.”

 

Anna Carrillo, who came out and got tested along with her daughter, says that it is a practice that she encourages her family and her friends to do twice a year.

 

Anna Carrillo

Anna Carrillo, Got Tested

“It’s very important for people to know what their status is and also knowing…in getting the information and getting tested for the purpose of not only for yourself, but whoever else you are having sex with.”

 

Duane Moody

“Would you suggest that other people do the same; come out and get tested?”

 

Anna Carrillo

“Yeah….it is good practice you know. Once you start getting testing, you are recommended to do it every six months. Once you start doing that like twice a year, it creates momentum and it becomes natural. Whenever there is a health fair, just show up and get a test.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

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