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Nov 26, 2003

Inmates with AIDS: A double whammy

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If you thought that last night’s story about a young HIV positive man who had unprotected sex with dozens of unwary women was an isolated incident, think again. Tonight News 5′s Jacqueline Woods ventures behind the walls of Hattieville Prison…and finds that, like the rest of society, AIDS has left its mark.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

Looking at thirty-seven year old Errol Fairweather, you would never suspect he has AIDS, but Fairweather is one of eight inmates living with the disease at Hattieville Prison. Fairweather says he did not contract the HIV at the institution, but believes his behaviour on the outside put him at risk.

Errol Fairweather, AIDS Patient

“I was living a life of drinking, drugging, and partying. I’ve had numerous partners, you know. I have had numerous partners throughout Belize, where I am from. It’s hard to pinpoint the person where I might have gotten it from. I was a person that was never was into condoms, nothing like that, you know, and I am very sorry for it today.”

Fairweather’s first term in jail, on a burglary conviction, ran from 1997 to 2000. It was during this period in early 1999, that he was first tested for HIV. Although the result was positive, he was never told about his status until several months after he was released. However, by that time, Fairweather says he already had sex with other women.

Anthony Sankey, Director of Training, Hattieville Prison

“That was well before the Kolbe administration took over management of the prison, so it was a different set of persons who was responsible to see to it that he should have had that information passed to him in a timely fashion.”

Although Fairweather was out of jail, he hardly had time to enjoy his freedom. By mid 2002 the disease had started to eat away at his body and he was reduced to skin and bones. He spent several days in the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital, receiving anti-retroviral medication. As his condition slowly improved, he was discharged. But despite his condition, Fairweather continued to get in trouble with the law. He committed another burglary and last December was sent back to prison. Since then, he has become the most vocal inmate to speak openly about AIDS in an effort to educate others about the deadly disease.

Errol Fairweather

“That’s my first goal. I don’t want to hurt no one no more, you know. That’s why I am sitting here speaking out because I have no intentions like that. I want to give back to society. I want to use this sickness to help as much as I can.”

Although less than one percent of the prison population is known to have the disease, prison officials believe there may be a higher number among its one thousand and eighty inmates.

Erika Goldson-McGregor, HECOPAB Central Health Region

“We’ve recognized that the prison population is a vulnerable group and we’ve tried to identify strategies in which we could target all the different population within Belize. And since it is a captive audience, we thought that we could be very successful in whatever interventions we could implement within this particular population.”

According to the Health Education Community Participation Bureau’s coordinator, Erika Goldson-McGregor, one programme they have initiated is a support group for inmates.

Anthony Sankey

“One of the interesting I have also come to realise is that they share their experiences when they get into the support group. And if somebody may be seeing him or herself being discouraged for some reason or the other, that is where the support group kicks in to say hey, all is not lost, you are still on the right track, keep up the fight.”

The stigma and discrimination, that most HIV/AIDS patients experience in society does not appear to be as evident in prison.

Errol Fairweather

“A lot of the inmates have a lot of love in their heart cause they truly embrace me and they try to embrace a lot of the other brothers. And I think as long as we can educate them, you know, Miss Erika and they come in with the programme to educate the inmates they will learn a lot more.”

Because persons living with HIV and AIDS must live a healthy lifestyle, the Kolbe Foundation does its best to provide the affected inmates with all the necessary services.

Anthony Sankey

“The adequate amount of disinfectants, cleaning materials, and everything is provided so that they can clean themselves regularly. We have improved our toilet facilities in most areas of the prison.”

“Our welfare department works closely in identifying in any special nutrition and dietary needs for persons living with HIV and AIDS and those arrangements are coordinated with the help of our medical staff.”

Fairweather has been lucky to receive support from his family. He gets financial assistance that he uses to maintain a high protein diet and medication. Today, the prison’s training officer, Anthony Sankey, says they plan to tap into the Ministry of Health’s free access to anti-retroviral drugs.

Anthony Sankey

“Through the help of the National AIDS Commission, where I was recently confirmed and informed that we will be considered as one of the priority groups to get some of the assistance where the treatment and medication is concerned for persons we have living with HIV/AIDS within our institution.”

Inmates with HIV and AIDS inmates are not isolated, although Sankey says those living with the condition do prefer to stay together. Fairweather says once he is released in 2006 he will continue his advocacy and admits if he happens to come across someone he likes, he will be completely honest with that person.

Errol Fairweather

“Because I have no intention to hurt no one no more. I’m not saying that me and a young lady won’t be able to be friends, to sit and have a meal, to maybe sit and talk, but as far as a relationship for me as far as sex or anything, it’s a no, no for me. That’s not part of my agenda no more.”

Jacqueline Woods for News 5.

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