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Dec 1, 2011

World Aids Day Activities spread knowledge of disease

The first case of HIV was documented in 1986 and some twenty- five years later, millions of people are affected by this disease across the world. In an effort to raise awareness and support those living with HIV, December first, is observed as World AIDS Day.  This provides an opportunity to fight prejudice against people living with HIV, improve knowledge about the disease and raise funding for research.   This year’s theme, which runs until 2015, is “Getting to Zero:” Zero New HIV Infections: Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS Related Deaths.  Earlier today, we spoke to a person living with AIDS and then to Dr. Marvin Manzanero, the Director of the National Program, who says that the HIV/AIDS statistics are improving.

Dr.  Marvin Manzanero, Director, National Program HIV/AIDS, Min. of Health

“HIV/AIDS total number of new infections for the third year in a row is starting to show a decreasing pattern. That means we have a hundred and thirty seven new cases up until the end of September this year. So it seems that we will be under two hundred for this year compared to what we had last year—that’s about twenty to twenty-five percent reduction.”

Andrea Polanco

Marvin Manzanero

“What age range are we looking at?”

Dr.  Marvin Manzanero

“That age range has not really changed from the beginning of the epidemic. We still see consistently the same age range being affected—between twenty to thirty-nine years—that’s where the highest amount of cases are, but then this could also be linked to sexual activity because that’s when people are a little bit more sexually active than in other age groups.”

Andrea Polanco

“I am not sure if you are able to discuss this with us, but in terms of the attitudes towards testing are we seeing maybe a higher increase in terms of the people going forward to doing the HIV/AIDS tests?”

Dr.  Marvin Manzanero

“I think the numbers have been basically the same from 2008. We have close to thirteen thousand people that have gotten HIV tests this year for the first nine months. And we are hoping that those numbers will get closer to eighteen thousand in the last quarter especially with the activities happening around World Aids Day.”

Andrea Polanco

“Final question: in terms of going forward, what is it that you think that looking at the HIV/AIDS situation in Belize from a holistic perspective, what are some of the steps that you think we need to take in the direction towards getting the HIV/AIDS to zero?”

Dr.  Marvin Manzanero

“Well one of the issues that we have as the healthiest treatment that is prevention which is starting to put patients at an earlier stage before they get to the final stages of disease. Looking at other innovative techniques that may be coming up—using social media, social networks in getting prevention messages across and trying to influence behavior change. So HIV is an evolving epidemic so we need to be evolving with the epidemic in order to get the messages across.”

Eric Castellanos

Eric Castellanos, President, Collaborative Network of Persons Living with HIV

“I have been living with HIV for fifteen years now and we have seen in the past, for example, the involvement of persons living with HIV in the national response being a little shadowed. It was mostly a tokenistic representation in the past, where people were just asked to be there and sign because of international standards we need the involvement of persons infected and affected. As the initiative from the National AIDS Commission and other organizations have supported us in the national responses. Why is this important? Because we the persons living with HIV know the real issues we go through and the challenges we face living with HIV and we can contribute greatly to the response to gear the response to meet those situations and to eradicate the barriers that we face daily. In doing so we realized that we were not really and meaningfully represented and that is what we decided that we needed to get organized. We need to get a body organized of persons living with HIV to be able to talk for ourselves. We have a voice and we do not need third person to talk for us.”

Martin Cuellar

Martin Cuellar, Executive Director, National AIDS Commission

“The country response was successful in procuring a six million U.S. dollar grant from global fund to fight AIDS tuberculosis and malaria. The grant will allow us to increase and expand our prevention, care and treatment, research initiatives over the next four years. The next major accomplishment in coordination with the national response this past year is our new national strategic plan which is now complete in draft and ready for submission to cabinet for endorsement. This document will ensure higher levels of coordination, efficiency and transparency in all that we do and sets the bar for more strategic steps for our overarching goals of zero new infections, zero stigma and discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths.”

While the number of new infections is declining, the main hurdles for persons affected are stigma and discrimination.

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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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