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Oct 28, 2016

Improving Access to Health Care for HIV/AIDS Patients

The National Aids Commission in collaboration with the UNAIDS hosted a public forum this morning at the Biltmore Plaza to discuss barriers to accessing health care services. The meeting addressed stigma, discrimination and abuse that are key factors that hinder increasing health service access in Belize. News Five’s Duane Moody was in attendance and files this report.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

HIV testing, stigma and discrimination are among the six factors that discourage persons from getting tested for HIV/AIDS and continue to be deterrents in achieving the Sustainable Development Goal to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. But how will this target be met? Well, health officials and partner agencies plan to scale up HIV prevention, testing and treatment services with the goal to significantly reduce new infections. Locally, since 2009, that number had been on a downward trend, except for 2015 and 2016, respectively, where there has been a minimal increase.

 

Marvin Manzanero

Dr. Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services

“2020 is where we want to have zero or no new infections; that’s at least the target. We did start to have a decrease from 2009 up until 2014 in the last two years; we have had a slight increase—not significant. We are still noticing that people are coming into the system rather late which is a concern and people are testing way too advance in their disease.”

 

But while the topic centered on the HIV Health Care system, presenters also spoke on barriers such as legal, human rights, social, cultural, educational, and religious aspects. One such legal aspect was the ruling on Section Fifty-three of the Criminal Code and what it meant for the national HIV response.

 

Laura Longsworth

Laura Longsworth, Chairperson, National Aids Commission

“There is also a political declaration that we all agreed on and no doubt we need strong leadership to take on. We know recently we had the issue of the section fifty-three judgment and there is a lot of negativity and almost a lot of discrimination. And Canon Flowers can attest to being attacked and members of our LGBT community being attacked. So it is a matter of leadership. We have to be strong because if we do the right thing we will get where we need to know. The whole response needs strong leadership and we need the engagement of persons with HIV because they are the ones who are feeling it and that can tell us what’s happening to them. And of course our communities and the civil society. The declaration suggests or proposes that we have three goals: we need to reduce new infections to fewer than five hundred thousand globally and also reduce AIDS-related deaths to less than five hundred thousand globally by 2020. And of course we need to be able to say what is the extent of stigma and discrimination being experienced by our society and our vulnerable populations.”

 

Among the targets in anticipation of the 2020 goals are: increasing the number of persons being treated for HIV/AIDS, pushing prevention outreach, stopping new infections among children in mother to child transmission cases and focusing on women and youth, as well as gender equality. But what is the Ministry of Health and partnering agencies putting in place to ensure that there is an ease of access to health care services?

 

Dr. Marvin Manzanero

“I think since 2012 when we started realizing that we don’t have a generalized epidemic, it is a concentrated epidemic. One of the things that we started to do is go in search of men; proactively, men in general—we didn’t ask for anything specific in terms of their sexual behavior. One of the other aspects we are now looking at is trying to see if we can expand the testing services. I know the VCT site in Belize City is looking at the possibility of doing testing beyond the eight to five hour—possibly going up to nine o’clock. There has been outreach where the HIV program has gone out to do testing where there are parties that are exclusive for men, gay parties. I think we have taken a more proactive approach to that. We are trying to see if we can place everybody on treatment as well; as long as you are HIV positive, place you on treatment regardless of CD-four. Providing condoms at all different levels—female condoms, male condoms—and I think it is trying to take it from a more proactive stance, understanding where the epidemic is and knowing where we have to go.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

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