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Nov 25, 2003

After sex with series of women, HIV+ man is sorry

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The latest AIDS statistics are out, and while it would be easy to portray the frightening numbers in eye catching graphics on your screen, we’ve found that numbers no longer seem to move our audience to any meaningful change in behaviour. So today, as part of our acknowledgement of AIDS Week, we’re going to try something different. Instead of numbers we’re going to introduce viewers to the people behind the numbers. In this case, one man responsible for what could be a large portion of those grim statistics. Jacqueline Woods has the story.

Allen Garbutt, HIV Positive

“I wanted to die at the time. As a matter of fact, I even tried taking my life on several occasions.”

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

Thirty-three year old Allen Garbutt has slit his wrist four times and drank poison on several occasions after finding out that he is HIV Positive. Garbutt says he knows he contracted the virus through sexual intercourse because he lived a promiscuous lifestyle following problems in his marriage.

Allen Garbutt

“I was working at a very prestigious factory and I was very promiscuous at the time, having multiple partners. And I do believe that it was during that time that I had contracted the virus. Like I said, I think I was promiscuous, I know I was promiscuous; I had multiple partners.”

Between 1993 and 2002, Garbutt claims he has had sex with a hundred women. Garbutt admits that following his first HIV test in 1997, he continued to have unprotected sex. He claims that he was never told he had the virus, only an infection that he could treat with medication.

Allen Garbutt

“I took their word for it, that it was just an infection. I decided, well after it cleared up, I decided why shouldn’t I, you know, which was very stupid of me.”

“And I can’t apologize enough to these people because it wasn’t something intentional I was doing, I just didn’t know that is what is happening to me.”

But sources contacted by News 5 indicate that Garbutt never did return for the results of his initial test and from then strongly suspected he had HIV. It was not until 2002 that he went for his second test and it was confirmed he had the virus.

Jacqueline Woods

“How many people do you believe you may have infected?”

Allen Garbutt

“Oooh, I will be honest with you, I can’t really give you a number, but I can actually say it has been quite a few. It’s been quite a lot of people, to be more precise, but I can’t really give you a number it’s been too much.”

Jacqueline Woods

“How does that make you feel?”

Allen Garbutt

“Oh, at times that makes me want to leave this life sometimes because thinking about it, I have actually destroyed a lot of lives. I wouldn’t like to say destroy, but I have probably put a little damper in somebody’s lives. Again, I can’t apologize enough for my stupid mistakes.”

Garbutt contends that because he did not knowingly infect another person he does not believe he should be held responsible for his actions. According to Rodel Beltran Perera of Alliance Against AIDS, a 2002 law, which makes it a crime to intentionally infect another person with HIV, has not had much an effect.

Rodel Beltran Perera, Executive Dir., Alliance Against AIDS

“My opinion on the legislation is that it is not being enforced. We don’t have an agency that is enforcing it, who are those persons that are going to enforce it? Are those newly infected persons that could have been infected by the intentional behaviour of that HIV positive person? Are they taking it on? We don’t know, and we don’t know of any case right now; however that law does exist.”

Jacqueline Woods

“Perera says it is the responsibility of the person, who has just found out that he or she has the virus, to inform their partners. But if this is not done, the Ministry of Health gets involved in contact tracing by using the information collected on their patient’s questionnaire.”

Today, Garbutt spends most of his time at A.A.A. sharing his experience with clients and educating the public about the disease. Most importantly, he says he has been trying to get in touch with those persons he believes he may have infected.

Allen Garbutt

“I’ve actually gotten to the point where I have tried to actually get involved with some of these people and let them know, hey you might be at risk for something, you need to come in, let’s do a test. I can’t force them because that is their right, but I am very much trying on my part to correct what I have done wrong. And some of them have come in and done their test and some of them are negative; some are positive.”

Garbutt is just one of over two thousand persons living with HIV in Belize. How each contracted the virus may be different, but one thing all persons living with the condition share, is the stigma and discrimination against them.

Allen Garbutt

“Belize is very small and news travel very fast, and somewhere along the line I keep reminding myself that you got to be careful, you are HIV positive and you will get to that point where you will be single out. In some cases, I feel that is what is really happening.”

Garbutt, who worked as an automotive mechanic, says his family struggles with what has happened. Most of his friends have moved away, his customers no longer need his service, and he is temporarily living in a room a friend offered to him.

Allen Garbutt

“It has been a roller coaster, trust me. There are days I get up and I just don’t know where the next meal is coming from. There are days I get up and I can’t help, but wonder what is in store for me for this day. As it is, not being able to meet my daily needs is a challenge by itself.”

The National AIDS Commission is concerned about discrimination in the workplace. N.A.C.’s Executive Director, Martha Carrillo, says they have been working on preparing legislation that will see that HIV infected persons are not fired from their jobs simply because of their health status.

Martha Carrillo

“We know that once we have the legal framework in place, we will be in a better position to provide more concrete services to persons who are being discriminated, and also being released from their jobs when people find out that they are HIV positive.”

Also, some basic needs, like access to free medication are now available to HIV/AIDS patients.

Martha Carrillo

“The Ministry of Health now has available medication for two hundred persons. We know that several persons have been seeking out this service and have actually been able to get on the medication.”

Carrillo hopes with the recent approval of two point four million dollars by the Global Fund they will be able to provide free medication to all patients in the next five years. It’s not certain when Garbutt will require the medication, but one thing he says he’s sure of, and that is, not to put another person’s life at risk.

Allen Garbutt

“Right now, I am doing very good, I am only HIV positive, I don’t have AIDS. I simply maintain a high protein diet when I could that is. I avoid definitely sex on a whole. I am not involved with anybody. Not that I can’t, but I simply chose not to.”

Jacqueline Woods for News 5.

Any Belizean who thinks that he or she may have been exposed to HIV is urged to visit the Voluntary Counselling and Testing Centre at the Cleopatra White Health centre in Belize City. All testing is confidential. Regarding those recent statistics, there were one hundred and thirteen new HIV cases reported between July and September, roughly the same number as the previous quarter.

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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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