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Oct 5, 2016

U.S.A.I.D. Closes Doors in Belize and Looks Back at HIV/AIDS Program

Back in 1996, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) closed its Belize office after thirteen years and more than one hundred million U.S. dollars in assistance to Belize. But the organization has not completely disappeared from the country entirely. It continues to support local organizations in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and after ten years, it is wrapping up that program too. Stakeholders met at the Radisson Hotel in Belize City this morning for a combination of celebration of achievements and discussion about a more promising future for the eradication of the deadly HIV scourge in Belize. Correspondent Aaron Humes reports.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

At the end of September, several programs funded by the United States Agency for International Development in relation to its HIV/AIDS program in Belize closed their doors. These include the Program to Strengthen the Central American Response to HIV/AIDS, or PASCA in Spanish, and the Pan American Social Marketing Organization, known as PASMO. At today’s wrap-up ceremony in Belize City, the U.S.A.I.D. Regional Coordinator, Daniel Morales, told us that this is not so much a goodbye, as their stepping behind the scenes.

 

Daniel Morales

Daniel Morales, Regional Coordinator for HIV, Latin America, U.S.A.I.D.

“We are now presenting ten years of achievements here in Belize. We are going to close our presence here, but we are going to continue working with Belize in the regional board. So it is not US closing the field support activities here in the country, but we will continue to work through the regional board with Belize.”

 

Reporter

“I gather that you won’t have a physical presence here is what you are saying?”

 

Daniel Morales

“That’s right, we will not have a physical presence, but the Ministry of Health can reach us through COMISCA or through the regional mechanism and we can provide some specific assistance to the country. We have a lot of achievements, but I think we can assume that the most important thing is that we received a lot of support for the key populations in the country. We give technical assistance from the Global Fund here in Belize; the Global Fund grants. I know the current grant is four one point five million dollars. And the other thing is that we prepare the countries who have their ownership about the work with key populations in related to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Belize.”

 

But with HIV being barely kept at bay, Morales says their work is not finished. The work to give people a chance to respond to the disease, he believes, will eventually turn the tide.

 

Daniel Morales

“We are helping the country to have more effective response to that new infections. I think it is not a success to have less infections. Sadly, you have to find more infections, but I think the country is more prepared to attend that infections, have information on that infections. And most important thing s the awareness of the country; that the most affected population is the key population—the MSM, the sex workers. I think it is not that all our work is done in the country, but at least the ownership that the Ministry of Health have of the problem is better than when we started ten or more years ago. I think that it is time for us to step away for the local presence, but we are going to continue working with the country.”

 

The Ministry of Health will continue to lead the charge, but the rise of non-governmental organizations, most notably the United Belize Advocacy Movement led by Caleb Orozco, ensure that for the first time, marginalized groups in Belize have a voice.

 

Caleb Orozco

Caleb Orozco, Executive Director, UNIBAM

“The Ministry of Health always has the burden of addressing health care for our citizens. But it is also clear that we are in a different environment where in twenty-five years of the epidemic, there was never an LGBT, MSM, minority group organization trying to address the health component of marginalised populations. So now we have a group that deals with sex workers, which addresses both health and violence.  We have a group looking at transgender issue; we have groups looking at young people and their health and then you have my organization looking at policy and advocacy. So what is being created is an environment of support that will over time galvanize itself and push the issues forward. So to me that is a good thing because those things would not have happened without an effort in targeting the men who have sex with men population and sex workers.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

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