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Nov 28, 2007

New initiative launched to help children affected by HIV/AIDS

Story PictureWe begin our news coverage tonight with a look at some new initiatives against the HIV epidemic. And while they happen to coincide with World AIDS Day on Saturday, the need for coherent action is both real and urgent. Janelle Chanona has our first report from Belmopan.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
According to the latest national statistics, there are currently fourteen thousand Belizean children infected with or affected by HIV and AIDS. However, to date, there are no national programs targeting this vulnerable population.

Anita Zetina, Chief Executive Officer, Ministry of Human Development
“Our main focus has been on children who come into our care for other reasons and then end up being affected or infected by HIV or AIDS. And so that has the extent of our intervention in that regard but we are seeing the need to do more.”

In an attempt to meet that need, today the Cornerstone Foundation, UNICEF and its partners invited primary students from the Belmopan area to witness the official launch of the Caring for Children Campaign.

Rita Defour, Manager, Cornerstone Foundation
“The campaign is to get donations from the business sector, from the churches and its’ the help children affected by HIV and AIDS. These donations will be given directly to these children.”

Janelle Chanona
“And it can be food…”

Rita Defour
“And it can be food, clothing, hygiene products, whatever.”

Anita Zetina
“Whatever we contribute will better the quality of life of children in our society. We cannot forget that the children are our future and that if we don’t take care of them we will probably have no future.”

Two years ago, UNICEF estimated that one in every twelve children were infected or affected by HIV but only a small percentage were receiving medical treatment and care. The organization is currently conducting a situation analysis to determine a more accurate number.

Rana Flowers, UNICEF
“Days like today are really there to highlight that in the overall HIV and AIDS picture in Belize, children are very neglected and we have a responsibility to ensure that we bring them neglect and that we really table what their concerns are and start addressing them seriously.”

According to UNICEF country representative, Rana Flowers, serious action requires urgent political support.

Rana Flowers
“What’s missing from the equation is the Government; is a government department that really coordinates and ensures a continuum of care for the children. We are seeing that develop in other countries and that’s what absolutely we will be working with the government to do in the coming period. So on the basis of what we find out from this situation analysis we will definitely be working with counterparts in government, counterparts in the non-governmental organizations to get a relay clear strategic plan for how we are going to do this and how we are going to ensure that children are no longer hidden from our response. It can’t be just a health response. It can’t be just the health department who gets to dart around children and then follows. It has to be a much wider community response because the issues that these children face are not just health.”

In the absence of a government program, a number of committees and community based organizations are reaching out to affected children and their families.

Dr. Mike Martinez, Belmopan AIDS Committee
“The struggle is on, it’s a struggle…it’s not an easy thing and with children and something like this today they will be much more informed on where to go and what to do and how to treat others that are suffering with the disease.”

And this afternoon students participating in the launch were eager to share their perspectives on the deadly disease, the modes of transmission and the painful side effects of stigma and discrimination.

Natalie Cucul, Standard Six Student
“I know a person that is I think nine and she had a new born baby.”

Janelle Chanona
“Really? How did that make you feel?”

Natalie Cucul
“It neva mek I feel good but it happened so it already happened.

Janelle Chanona
“What you must do to make sure you don’t get in that situation?”

Natalie Cucul
“Well, what I must do is that I must ensure that I keep myself safe and I am not going to do that.”

Evan Melendez, Standard Six Student
“Use a condom.”

Janelle Chanona
“Use a condom?”

Evan Melendez
“Every time.”

Janelle Chanona
“You think people your age right now are having sex?”

Children
“[All together] Yes miss. No miss.”

Jashar Price, Standard Six Student
“They affect other people weh no gat it.”

Edmund Pascascio, Standard Six Student
“When somebody have AIDS, miss, it show you how fi care fi them, miss, because when yu got AIDS too much people discriminate yu, miss.”

Janelle Chanona
“And how you think discrimination feel?”

Edmund Pascascio
“Miss I think that feel bad, miss, because that hurt yu feeling too, miss.”

Janelle Chanona
“So if you all found out that somebody was sick around you, how would you treat that person?”

Edmund Pascascio
“I would treat them as I treat myself, miss, equally.

Jerome Chun, Teacher, Garden City Primary School
“They have enough education at this point I believe to make the right choice.”

Janelle Chanona
“Are you surprised by the sexual behaviour that’s already being exhibited at this age?”

Jerome Chun
“Not at all surprised because if you look at children nowadays they’re exposed, they’re overexposed in a sense to so many things that is going around in this area so it’s very difficult for us to try to cover up such as issue as AIDS and how someone can become affected. If we can bring down the amount of exposure to these children then probably we can suppress but there’s no way, no how so I’m not all surprised.

Janelle Chanona
“But you are grateful that they are doing these sorts of things?”

Jerome Chun
“Definitely. I mean this is a start I believe and we as teachers and parents also have to become educated about this whole issue of HIV and we have to know how not to discriminate against these people living with HIV and they can learn from these people.”

The acceptance of donations towards the Caring for Children campaign will begin on World AIDS Day, December first, at drop off points across the country.

Reporting for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.

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