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Oct 13, 2011

Stakeholders attend HIV/AIDS Forum

A two-day forum on AIDS/HIV concluded today at the Radisson Hotel. The participants were from the public sector as well as numerous NGOs. While the number of new infections decreased during the past year, the forum highlighted numerous areas where work is required. According to one presenter, there is no protection in the laws of Belize for persons affected by HIV and adequate health status should go beyond a policy issue to a constitutional guarantee. News Five’s Andrea Polanco reports.

Dr. Martin Cuellar, Executive Director, National AIDS Commission Secretariat

Martin Cuellar

“We had two hundred and forty four new people infected with HIV during 2010. But these numbers indicate a thirty three percent decrease from the years before and a forty three percent decrease from 2008. So it does give us a sign that the amount of work we do collectively in prevention si starting to take an effect. Another important part of those statistics that we talked about this morning is the key age groups that were infected and we saw something a little bit different in 2010. We saw the primary age group that was infected was 25-29 years old followed closely behind by those 35-39 years old and so we are looking at the more middle of the range adult population being the primary age group affected with the disease.”

While these statistics show that there is a notable decrease in the number of new HIV infections since the latter part of 2010, the two day discussion highlights need for increased public education and access which continue to be paramount to all HIV/AIDS related elements:

Joan Burke

Joan Burke, Executive Director, BFLA

“When we talk about health services, persons have; not because of your sexual orientation, not because you are a young person under the age of eighteen or sixteen; then you must be denied certain services. There were other issues of the rights violation; what prevent persons from even advocating for their own rights and understanding the rights. I think at the end of it all, what is very evident si that as a nation we need much more education on our laws. We need to understand that yes whilst our representatives they go abroad and sign on to certain conventions and all that; that unless as a nation we advocate for the legal reform to ensure that what they sign on to can then become what the nation needs in order for us to enjoy a certain quality of life.”

Daisy Magana

Daisy Magana, GoJoven

“As you know, GoJoven works with adolescents and sexual reproductive health here in Belize and we do promote youth leadership in this area to advocate for social change in areas of health care services, education, policies. So it has a lot to do with GoJoven and all organizations present here.”

Benjamin Acosta

Benjamin Acosta, President, UB Student Government, Belmopan Campus

“We have a high percentage of youth attending our University and it is important that our youth be informed. Therefore the information hat I am gathering over here, it is vital that we find means and strategies on how to disseminate the information to our youth within the university body.”

Kim Simplis Barrow, Special Envoy for Women and Children

Kim Simplis Barrow

“We just have to keep on top of it and we have to make sure that there is a tie in with the health, with the law and the education. There is a whole tie in to what is going on here—it is not just an isolated case; it’s everything –it is the health, education and the law. So it’s known that in 2010 our statistics went down, but we still have a lot of children dying of AIDS because of the lack of gettignt he medical attention, because of discrimination. So there is where the problem really lies.”

Central to the discussion is the gap between HIV and the laws of Belize as they relate to the human rights aspect:

Audrey Matura Shepherd

Audrey Matura Shepherd, OCEANA

“The problem that I see is that people are not understanding the difference between an international convention that is signed by government, the difference with the power of your constitution and the subordinate laws that follow from them and then just mere policy. Some of the participants seem to believe that because Belize signed the human rights convention, it means that everything that is embodied in there is part of our law. But the reality is it is not. When you are signing these international conventions, what you are doing you are saying that these are ideals you would want to adapt for your country. But then you need to come and put it in your local law so that it becomes enforceable. And then the other problem is that on the issue of policy, some of the agencies are taking that they have done great work with policy work in this area of HIV and education and different things and health care and that is laudable. But I don’t want to be the one to burst their bubble, but I have to let people know that policies are not enforceable in law; these are only ideals expressed again. So now I left the best for last and that’s the constitution. People need to understand the reason why the constitution is so important because that sets the foundation of what every other law is subject to. And if people can’t get that then I guess they’ve really missed the entire debate about the ninth amendment. Everything is relevant. The reason you need to amend the constitution is because when you do that, every other law is subject to it. So on the issue that they are talking about people being discriminated against based on the fact that they are HIV positive, there is nothing in any law to protect them; worse in our constitution because our constitution in section 3 and 16 only speaks about discrimination based on sex, political opinion, race, creed and place of origin. For them to have some real teat so that people are not discriminated based on the fact that they are HIV positive, they need to incorporate in it that section that you cannot be discriminated against based on your health status.”

Kathy Esquivel

Chairperson of the National AIDS Commission says work is in the pipeline to gap the bridge between HIV, human rights and the law:

Kathy Esquivel, Chairperson, National AIDS Commission

“Well there is already a move from the National Aids Commission for various changes in the law—very much in line with much of the discussion. We obviously have to add to it and the idea is to take it on a public consultation and present it to government to actually make the changes in law that are required.”

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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