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Oct 26, 2017

HIV in Belize: Infections Stable, Strides Made, More Work to Do

The Ministry of Health released the 2016 Annual HIV Statistical Report and the numbers show that there were fewer persons infected than in 2015. As in previous years, the report shows that not as many men were tested, but even so, more men were HIV positive. The Ministry of Health says that while there were several HIV infected pregnant women, none of the babies were born with the infection. News Five’s Andrea Polanco speaks with the Ministry of Health and the National AIDS Commission about the latest HIV stats. Here’s that story.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

There were two hundred and twenty-five newly diagnosed HIV cases in Belize in 2016. That number is eleven fewer than last year’s figures.

 

Antonio Coyoc

Antonio Coyoc, Monitoring & Evaluation Officer, Ministry of Health

“Overall, we are seeing like there is a trend; it is not increasing or decreasing. It’s just like a stable trending happening.”

 

But that number only takes into account the data captured by the Ministry of Health’s data information system.

 

Andrea Polanco

“Those numbers only represent those that are captured by the Ministry of Health; that doesn’t include people who screen privately?”

 

Arthur Usher

Arthur Usher, Communications & Programs Officer, NAC

“Right. So that would also gives us a clear indication where we are as a country and some of that tends to do with the discrimination and the stigma in getting tested and things like that. So, people have a tendency sometimes to move away from the Ministry system which also gives us what they have in their system and the details that they which tells the Ministry picture – which you rightly said, some people screen outside but this is not to say that they are not aware of their status and they are not accessing the help they need. So, again, in terms of the overall picture they might not be in within that data but they are accessing the help.”

 

The Ministry of Health’s 2016 stats show that there were three thousand six hundred and sixty-five persons living with HIV; and in 2016, one hundred and four persons died of HIV related conditions.

 

Antonio Coyoc

“From that that who know their status is two thousand four hundred and twenty-three and from that we have two thousand two hundred and fifty-eight that are linked to care and from that we have a total of one thousand three hundred and eighty-six that have actually retained in care;from that there is a total of one thousand three hundred and fifty-four are on ARV treatment and from that we have five hundred and seven of them that are virally suppressed. Virally suppressed would mean that they are actually on treatment and it is working the way it is supposed to; meaning that virus is  not detected in the person’s body.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“I believe you had one hundred and four deaths in 2016; why are people still dying from HIV when the medication is free?”

 

Arthur Usher

“A part of our challenge has always been adherence; making sure people stay on medication – adhere. Again, HIV breaks down your immune system and you also have to take care of yourself health-wise even more. This is not blaming the victim, but at the same time there is some responsibility that everyone has to take. Besides, may or may not be eating healthy, immune system is weak and not taking the medication. It is sad and like you said the medication is free.”

 

In 2016, there were thirty-two thousand six hundred and thirty five HIV tests done. Last year’s annual HIV Statistical Report shows that from that number, twice as many women tested but more men were HIV positive; with majority of HIV positive persons in the twenty-five to forty-nine year old age range.

 

Antonio Coyoc

“As we know, men tend to take a longer time to go to the clinic when they are sick, especially when it comes to testing compared to the females; and the pregnant mothers are being screened on a regular basis when they go to the clinics, hence the reason why we are getting more females getting tested.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“But we are seeing more men being infected, is that correct?”

 

Antonio Coyoc

“Right. That is correct. So, for every three person that is being screened there is one male being infected.”

 

And of the pregnant mothers tested, there were thirty-five cases of HIV reported in 2016 and fourteen of those cases were new infections. There were thirty-five babies born last year to HIV positive mothers but none HIV positive.

 

Antonio Coyoc

“I am glad to say that for 2016, there were approximately fifty women that were tested and infected and from there we had zero [infected] babies being born to those mothers.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Zero [infected] babies – how big is this and what does the Ministry attribute this success to?”

 

Antonio Coyoc

“Well, this is attributed to early testing and the mothers coming into the health system at an early stage at pregnancy.”

 

Arthur Usher

“That is great news. Belize is one of the few countries in the region with that number so we are really proud of that; the Ministry is very proud of that. I think people need to realize that going back to the work that we are doing, there are multiple battles that we are winning and on multiple stages.”

 

The Belize District had the highest number of newly diagnosed HIV cases with sixty-seven males and fifty-nine females. Toledo had the lowest number of reported infected cases of six males and four females. And with more than thirty-thousand tests done across the country, The National AIDS Commission says that one of the results of increased awareness is increased testing.

 

Arthur Usher

“Because of awareness, because of the programmatic style that we are using – targeting young people, we have our app and using different ad campaigns between the Ministry and other partners we are piggy-backing on. I think that the general public is more aware of and conscious that testing is very important. And so with that education, I think it breaks down the discrimination a bit, so people walk up to the booths and get tested without fear. So that might be one of why are you are seeing  the increase of testing.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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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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