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Oct 22, 1998

Startling new stats on HIV/AIDS

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Most of us don’t want to hear about it anymore, but turning away won’t make it go away. Tonight Patrick Jones has a startling reminder of the AIDS epidemic that keeps on growing and continues to threaten all Belizeans.

The statistics provided by the National AIDS Program indicate that the number of HIV positive persons in Belize now stands at a six hundred and the short term outlook is not too promising.

Dr. Michael Pitts, Director, National AIDS Program

“What it is clearly showing is that the epidemic is still in its upswing and this is after twelve years. Generally in other countries you would see this epidemic peaking about fourteen years after the start, but interestingly as we desegregate these figures, we are seeing an enormous impact in younger people and especially in the age group between fifteen and thirty five.”

That’s the same age group that the Chairperson of the National AIDS Task Force, Myrna Manzanares says needs the most attention, as AIDS in this segment of the population can have far reaching consequences.

Myrna Manzanares, Director, National AIDS Task Force

“It is not getting better and my concern is the fact that the population that it is going to be affected, women and children and the age groups, because in Belize it hits more the heterosexual group more. And if it’s within the age group where you have the population of the work force, then it’s going to be quite an impact and socio-economically it’s going to affect everybody. Economically, socially, mentally, the whole works and the country could become devastated if we do not change the behavior that we have.”

The sobering statistics shared with the participants of today’s consultation also indicate that more women are becoming infected with the deadly virus and at a younger age, thus increasing the incidence of mother to child transmission of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Dr. Michael Pitts

“We can’t delude ourselves and assume that the twelve year old and fifteen year olds are not engaged in these risky behavior. We have to focus on those folks. The effort must be with the systematic education of kids in and out of schools about risky sexual behavior and how to prevent it. There are simple tried and tested methods. If we could have adults, young adults use condoms appropriately, we could have young kids delay sexual involvement until a reasonable time. Those who must have, if they can understand the risk then we might be able to curb it.”

But curbing the spread of AIDS is proving to be easier said than done. According to Pitts it is likely to be a couple more years before the real results of intervention and prevention programs start to show. While we wait he says, it would help if everyone, including health care professionals join hands to defeat a common enemy.

Dr. Michael Pitts

“There are some very good doctors who have assisted in this effort, but sometimes some doctors have not been astute enough to recognize that such a problem existed and they haven’t tested people and reported the results of their testing to the relevant authorities. In the government sector generally our results come through the program but in the private sector, we don’t get a lot of the information so we may miss a lot of people.

The message to understand is that this disease is across the board. It can affect anybody in this country. Every district has some level of this disease. Belize District in particular, Stann Creek District, but in every place, people must recognize that AIDS in Belize is a problem in the heterosexual group. Risky sexual behavior must be curbed.”

The risky sexual behavior that is contributing to the spread of AIDS, may have an even more sinister root. Much to the amazement of participants of today’s consultation, was the revelation that two and three year old girls are actually testing positive for gonorrhea, a sickening indication of child sexual abuse. Patrick Jones for News Five.

Today’s workshop is part of a series that will be conducted in all six districts.

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