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Jun 29, 2012

Regional HIV Testing Day

There were other activities taking place aside from the budget. Across the Caribbean, today is recognized as Regional HIV Testing Day. The initiative was started by the Caribbean Broadcast Media Partnership on HIV/AIDS in collaboration with the Pan Caribbean Partnership on HIV/AIDS (PANCAP) in 2008. For the first time it is being implemented locally with support from Scotiabank. Testing sites were set up in Orange Walk, Belize, Cayo and Stann Creek Districts; hundreds of persons took tests and had confidential results in a matter of fifteen minutes.  News Five’s Delahnie Bain went to downtown Belize City on Regent Street and participated in the testing. Here’s her report.

 

Delahnie Bain, Reporting

Activities were held throughout the Caribbean today for the fifth annual Regional HIV Testing Day and Belize participated for the first time. Through collaboration between Scotiabank Belize, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Ministry of Health and the National AIDS Commission, testing sites were set up in four districts. In the city, the day of free HIV testing was done at the Scotiabank parking lot downtown.

 

Pat Andrews

Pat Andrews, Vice President/Managing Director, Scotiabank Belize Ltd.

“Our bank has been very instrumental in getting more awareness around HIV and AIDS. So a couple years ago, they started the initiative and getting various countries involved. We have ourselves and several other countries in the Caribbean who today are involved in testing and so on. And it’s something that we embraced in the past few years, but now we want to raise it to another level.”

 

Kathy Esquivel, Chair, National AIDS Commission

“In the past, we’ve had some small events but nothing as big as this. This year we were able to coordinate with Scotiabank, the Ministry of Health and National AIDS Commission so that we have this event on a larger scale and we really think that it’s important to encourage companies such as Scotia to be a part of the fight.”

 

To set the example, prominent persons and public figures were invited to go out and get tested. Among them, was our own Morning Show co-host, William Neal.

 

William Neal

William Neal, Co-Host, Open Your Eyes

“I think it’s important that—you know especially when you have a job that puts you in the public eye, that there are certain privileges that you’re afforded and certain responsibilities as well. And one of those responsibilities, when there are key opportunities for you to show an example, that you do so. And this is just one of those opportunities. And I think we have a lot of fear because of confidentiality and other issues for people to actually get tested within the Belizean construct and I think it’s important that you do. I doesn’t matter because, yes it’s your privacy that is important as well, but knowing is perhaps even more important because then you can act.”

 

Kathy Esquivel

Kathy Esquivel

“It’s to show that HIV does not discriminate; it can affect you rich or poor, educated, not educated. It can affect those who are sexually promiscuous, but it can also affect those who are very careful, but who maybe have a partner who is not careful. So it’s just saying that HIV does not discriminate and therefore everybody should be a part of taking personal responsibility.”

 

Pat Andrews

“I believe that having a bank like ourselves, or any financial institutions, partnering with government and the AIDS commission is very, very key because it brings to light the importance that we are part of this community where we live and where we work. So if we pitch in, I think it gives everyone a feeling that there is some importance that we want to give to it.”

 

Delahnie Bain

“So will your staff be participating?”

 

Pat Andrews

“They already have, definitely, definitely.”

 

According Kathy Esquivel, the Chair of the National AIDS Commission, it is important to know your status because it’s a way for persons to take responsibility for their lives, whether they are HIV positive or not.

 

Kathy Esquivel

“What we are really emphasizing is personal responsibility; every person must be responsible and we have in Belize, we have free treatment for anybody who is HIV positive and needs the treatment, we have free testing and counseling for anybody who wants to be tested and of course, counseling is part of it. But people have to step forward and take advantage. So that’s what it is, it’s encouraging people to take responsibility, not only for testing but for avoiding risky behavior that might put them at risk.”

 

And it appears that the awareness campaigns are working. Recent statistics for 2011 show a continued decrease in new HIV cases.

 

Marvin Manzanero

Dr. Marvin Manzanero, Director of HIV Program, Ministry of Health

“We didn’t do any report for AIDS cases because we think as time goes by and because of our change in treatment guidelines, we won’t be reporting as many AIDS cases.  The number of HIV cases are decreasing for a third year in a row. We have a seven percent reduction when compared to 2010 data and we are also noting that females are getting much more tested than males. So whenever we’re doing public outreach like an event like today, we’re particularly hoping that we’re going to have more males coming out to get tested. Also the prevalence for males being tested seems to be slightly higher than for females being tested.”

 

If today was any indication, the statistics on males will improve in the next report, because they came out in numbers for Regional HIV Testing Day.

 

Kathy Esquivel

“It’s excellent, excellent. And the emphasis on men coming out is important because far more women get tested through the prevention of mother to child transmission. So obviously men don’t become pregnant so they don’t get into that system. And we know on the whole that men access health care of all kinds less than women. So anything we can do to encourage men to take charge of their own health is very important.”

 

The target for each of the testing sites were at least one hundred and twenty-five persons. In the Belize District that mount was met and doubled with approximately two hundred and fifty tests being done. Delahnie Bain for News Five.

 

The overall target of five hundred persons in the four districts was also passed, but the final figure is not yet available.

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