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Jan 11, 2019

223 New Cases of HIV in Belize Reported for 2017

The latest HIV statistics have been released and according to the Ministry of Health report; in 2017, there were a higher number of infections among males than in females. Of the two-hundred and twenty-three new HIV cases, one hundred and twenty-four were among males compared to the ninety-nine females who tested positive. The report also shows that more men infected with the virus are dying compared to females who are infected. News Five’s Hipolito Novelo reports.

 

Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

Close to thirty-seven thousand HIV tests were conducted in 2017. This is according to the Annual HIV Statistical Report compiled and published by the Ministry of Health. In 2017, there were two-hundred and twenty-three new cases of HIV in Belize. Of that number, ninety-nine females tested positive while the remaining one hundred and twenty-four new cases were males. All these persons were enrolled in care, meaning that they had a consultation evaluating their physical and mental health status. More women tested positive up to age thirty-nine with the exception of those between ten and fourteen years. Figures show that a high percentage of new cases are men between the ages of twenty to twenty-four.

 

Russell Manzanero

Dr. Russell Manzanero, Head, Epidemiology Unit, M.O.H.

“It’s more males who are actually being infected. You are seeing a particular age group. Well now that you are seeing it, it is in the younger population. But now in this study that we are seeing is that even in the late stages we are seeing men becoming more reactive to the virus. So we are probably seeing like three point five times more than in the females. Men tend not to seek the services and if they do seek the services it is a little bit too late in this regards when you talk about HIV; they are seeking services a bit too late. When you talk about the numbers and about who is testing, reactive or positive and who are dying from the disease, it is basically the male population.”

 

According to Dr. Russell Manzanero, there is the need to reach males at a younger age for testing in order to minimize the risk of them infecting others with their unknown HIV status. After age thirty-nine, HIV infection in males is significantly higher than females. Among all the newly diagnosed patients, fifty-eight percent were placed on Antiretroviral Therapy while the remaining patients were pending evaluation for readiness to commence ART. Readiness includes acceptance of condition and commitment to adhere to medication. This can be affected by persons in denial or those with drug or alcohol dependency or other social problems.

 

Dr. Russell Manzanero

“When you look at the number and the age group affected, it does cause an alarm. It’s very young individuals who are being exposed and then you look at the numbers again and see that there might be a few cases in the later stages of an age group that are going to be tested. It falls back because the time that they go and get the services, it might be too late; they don’t go.  You are asking if it is a concern in that population.  It is because you spoke cultural- there might be some factors there, and there several socials issues behind it as well. So all of that influences how men seek services and their behavior on a whole because we do know that there are certain risks that they take. So those are the measures I think that we as the ministry need to target, those interventions to be specific to the male population.”

 

At the end of 2017, almost fifteen percent of persons who were diagnosed with HIV had died. There were a total of 108 HIV related deaths in 2017 with 39 females and 69 males. The Stann Creek District is reporting the highest HIV related mortality rate followed by the Belize District. In the Belize and Orange Walk Districts, males are dying twice the rate as females. In all districts, males are dying at a higher rate than females with the exception of Corozal.

In Belize, the biggest challenge of the HIV program has been to care for and treat all newly diagnosed HIV infected persons and those that are already on antiretroviral therapy. The primary goal of antiretroviral therapy is to suppress the HIV virus thus improving the quality of health and life of a person living with HIV. Suppression is achieved by interfering with the ability of the virus to replicate or reproduce resulting in an undetectable viral load. When the virus cannot replicate, damage to the immune system is minimized.

 

Dr. Russell Manzanero

“You need to stay on your medication. You need to change your lifestyle. You need to know what is happening. So for us as your health care providers, we need to do more screening. Of course, as the ministry, we are doing our part in trying to encourage individuals to get screened, tested. We offer all these services. So it entails a lot of things that we are doing in our end. But I guess what we need to look at as healthcare providers are a screen on more things because there are co-infections for example tuberculosis that is out there as well. These are the things that we should be looking at a little bit closer. Because we are seeing that the number of individuals who are dying of HIV were probably infected with TB as well. These are things we need to improve on. I guess this is what we are trying to incorporate now. We are trying to integrate both services, HIV and TB and this is the way we are trying to work that now.”

 

TB is one of the leading causes of death among people living with HIV. Without treatment, as with other opportunistic infections, HIV and TB can work together to shorten lifespan. Of the one hundred and seventeen TB positive patients, who were screened for HIV, twenty-eight were HIV positive meaning they were co-infected. There were eighteen deaths among these TB patients of which six were HIV/TB co-infection.  The Belize District saw the highest TB cases with fifty-five cases, followed by Cayo with fifteen cases and Belmopan with twelve. Hipolito Novelo, News Five.


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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