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Aug 30, 2006

Red Cross launches “Faces” HIV campaign

Story PictureHIV infection knows no race, no ethnic group, no gender, no nationality, no age. That’s the main thrust of a new campaign launched in Belize City today. News Five’s Kendra Griffith reports.

Kendra Griffith, Reporting
?You can?t judge a book by its cover? is the message that the Belize Red Cross is trying to relay to Belize?s youth in its efforts to combat new HIV infections.

Lily Bowman, Director General, Belize Red Cross
?Today I ask, look around you, beautiful faces sit next to you, behind you, in front of you, are they telling you anything that you need to know? No, they are just telling you, I am fine, I am okay, I am happy. Many young people with a very nonchalant outlook on sexual health do not realise that their lives can be affected by the past history of their current sexual partners. It is into this apathy that this multimedia campaign has sought to intervene in order to force recollection about the danger an extreme need for awareness and vigilance against the prevention of HIV/AIDS.?

?Faces? the campaign was officially launched this morning in Belize City.

Lily Bowman
?Four faces have been used to reflect the lifestyle choices of heterosexual, homosexuals, bisexual men and women. Its key impact is through massive signage in strategic locations such as billboards, bus stops or in smaller or equally strategic settings such as telephone cards and websites.?

In the next couple of days billboards in both English and Spanish will be posted in Belize City and San Pedro?but the project will be rolled out country wide.

Karen Diaz, President, Belize Red Cross
?I am positive that the message will be understood, accepted and spread to the exact population that is being targeted by this campaign.?

To help target those youths, Punta rock artist Supa G, former Queen of the Bay Stephanie Young and radio personalities Edith Tesecum and Orson Picart have been recruited as ?Awareness Champions.? Their role will be to spread this message wherever they go:

Stephanie Young, Awareness Champion
?We in Belize are fighting back as never before against the spread of HIV and AIDS, having learnt on important lesson, HIV/AIDS eradication begins with each of us. Remember, nobody has the truth written on their face, so protect yourself and use a condom.?

But getting sexually active young people to use condoms is only one aspect of the campaign.

Lily Bowman
?Communication and social mobilisation as I mention is to reverse the negative influence of stigma and discrimination. There is a great need for that in Belize and all over the world.?

Dolores Balderamos Garcia, Chair, National AIDS Commission
?We have close to four hundred people now on antiretroviral medication through the public health system alone in this country, that is something to shout about. But how many of those people would really step forward and say I am living with HIV. In this country we can count perhaps on one hand the persons who have stepped forward.?

One of those persons publicly living with HIV is Allen Garbutt, who says that stigma and discrimination has made his life hell.

Allen Garbutt, HIV Activist
?Over the years of being involved with HIV, in this work, I can tell you I?ve been viciously attacked on so many occasions, I have scars and marks to show. Been brutally stabbed, beaten up, been everything, you name about it, been through that and currently I am not employed. I simply get by, by doing testimonials like these and by handouts. I?ve been rejected by family members, I?ve been asked to stay away from the home, I?ve had doors slammed in my face and I?ve had people tell me, ?It?s best you just keep going.?

Even with all the abuse, Garbutt says he is thankful for the opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of others.

Allen Garbutt
?I don?t look at HIV as an impediment, I see it now as an opportunity too share and to try to avoid and to try to encourage persons not to get into this situation that I have been facing. I can say, man I?ve come a long way, over ten years being HIV positive and then look at me, can you really tell if I didn?t say.?

Kendra Griffith reporting for News Five.

“Faces” is an initiative of the International Red Cross Federation and the Panama Red Cross and has already been launched in other Caribbean countries.

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