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Dec 1, 2017

Safeguarding the right to health on World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day is observed every first of December in honor and memory of those who have battled and are still battling against the deadly scourge of H.I.V./AIDS. This year’s theme is, affirming the right to know one’s status, take steps to address it and not be discriminated against because of it. Even with the rate of new infections on the decline and more access to treatment and rehabilitation services available, living with AIDS is still an uphill climb. But as Aaron Humes reports, sufferers can count on a family of support and inspiration.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

The Battlefield Park was awash in red on this first day of December to mark World AIDS Day. Thirty-four years after HIV was first discovered, it has killed as many as thirty-five million people worldwide and affected the quality of life of as many others, including family and friends. Because of drugs and improved lifestyles, people with the virus live longer lives, but are they healthier? That is the concern raised by this year’s theme as explained by the National AIDS Commission’s Arthur Usher.

 

Arthur Usher, Communications and Programs Officer, National AIDS Commission

Arthur Usher

“We’re speaking to the access to medication, the access to healthcare, the access to all these things without discrimination, segregation and stigma. And so we are promoting that as well as for everybody generally. You are entitled to  healthcare.”

 

The Ministry of Health’s 2016 statistics 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. Eleven fewer persons were diagnosed with the deadly virus in 2016 than 2015, but fewer men than women were tested. But no matter the circumstance, says Usher, the change must be manifest in one’s personal behavior.

 

Arthur Usher

“Belize has a bit of tapering off in terms of where we are with new infections. Somewhere around 200 or 225 for the past 2 or 3 years and so what people might say. That is an improvement, yes it is an improvement but we want to do better. So, what we try to focus in our awareness campaign and most of our engagements with the public is behavior change, How you live your life, how you maintain your health is very important and feeds into the HIV epidemic. So while you have knowledge in terms of condom uses and all these other safety practices, knowledge has to translate to behavior and if we don’t do that then we won’t see the change that we need to see.”

 

Along those lines, Chairperson of the AIDS Commission, Nurse Laura Longsworth, noted that there are concerns about those leaving medication early, resulting in spreading infections and deaths.

 

Laura Longsworth, Chair, National AIDS Commission

Laura Longsworth

“The Government of Belize through the ministry of health continues to provide medication and other services to HIV/Aids patients free of cost. Today the national response includes attention not only to HIV/AIDS but also increased attention to TB since data show that TB infections are high amongst HIV infected persons. But worrying only 50% of those persons who should be on medication, remain on medication. Resulting in new infections of HIV sand deaths from AIDS related illnesses. Issues and adherence to treatment is being address and renewed efforts are being done to sensitize the public on the importance of remaining on medication.”

 

And with the age of first sexual encounters dipping ever lower, and the nature of those encounters spreading, Longsworth made the call for authority figures to start paying attention.

 

Laura Longsworth

“I am sending out a call to all parents and I think we need to speak to our families, our communities and our parents. Please pay attention to statistics, pay attention to the fact which show that children are engaging in early sexual activity beginning as young as fifteen years old or even earlier. Which makes them vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy; the adult population similarly I Belize also engaging in risky behavior ignoring the growing risk of HIV infections, so we are all called to called to action.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

 

Several persons were given awards of recognition by the Commission for being ‘unsung heroes’ in their respective fields as it related to H.I.V./AIDS. These include Narciso Caliz of Punta Gorda; the late Felix Ayuso of San Pedro Town; Nurse Margaret Bradley, in charge of the V.C.T. clinic for the Ministry of Health, and Hand in Hand Ministries for establishing the only child-friendly center in Belize for children with or related to persons living with H.I.V./AIDS. Testing is done for free at all established Ministry of Health-run clinics and hospitals as well as privately.

 

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