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Dec 1, 2009

World AIDS Day… get tested

Story PictureThere are over five thousand persons living with HIV/AIDS in Belize. With the high rate of infection, organizations countrywide offer education, counseling and testing in different awareness campaigns. For World Aids Day, those organizations shifted into high gear today and the public came out to take advantage of the free services. News Five’s Delahnie Bain was at the Bliss Parking lot on Regent Street for the event and tested for the disease.

Delahnie Bain, Reporting
Today is being internationally recognized as World Aids Day. In Belize activities for National HIV Testing Day also got underway. HIV/AIDS is a sensitive subject because of the high rate of infection, but according to the National HIV/AIDS Program Director, Doctor Marvin Manzanero, statistics for 2009 are showing a slight decrease.

Dr. Marvin Manzanero, Director, National HIV/AIDS Programme
“The first six months statistics show that there is actually a slight tendency to have lesser cases this year even though the number of tests haven’t really fluctuated. So we can’t say because less people are getting tested you’re having less positive cases. For example, we did about fifty-one tests at the Radisson and we have had close to a hundred done here today so the number of tests hasn’t decreased, the number of positive tests seems to be on a decrease.”

According to Manzanero, increased awareness campaigns contribute to the number of positive cases. Today the Pan American Social Marketing Organization (PASMO) was at the Bliss Parking Lot sharing information while the Voluntary Counseling and Testing Unit conducted free tests.

Keron Cacho, Behavior Communication Change Promoter, PASMO
“We do an awareness that we call the ABC policy simply meaning A – Abstain, B – Being faithful and C – Condomize depending upon the person or your behavior. Our booth, as you can see, we have various pamphlets, brochures t-shirts pens and whatever we might have that just simply give you some kind of information.”

Bernadine Grinage, Acting VCT Coordinator, Belize City
“We are doing what we call the rapid test or quick test, which is an easy process. It takes about five minutes to do your blood and get your test done and get counseling and then you get your result. We are also offering health information, how to remain HIV negative and preventative measures for HIV and if you are HIV positive, what steps you can do so that you can live longer.”

So while the information is available in abundance, there are still many people who are not properly informed and do not know where to get help. For example, how does the HIV virus spread?

Kimberly Rodriguez, Rural Health Nurse, Maskall
“Through sexual contact of course, mother to child, breastfeeding, delivery most times and needles like for drug users and so forth. For transmission from mother to child, we have the HIV testing for mothers who join the clinic. The protocol is usually two tests; one at booking and one in the third trimester.”

Bernadine Grinage
“Throughout the country we have different sites where you can go and get free HIV testing. They are attached to the hospitals in the district; any of the district hospitals and in Belize City, you can get testing at the VCT site, which is located on the Cleopatra White Clinic compound near Pallotti High school and then at the private facilities, you can get testing at Belize Family Life Association and any of the private hospitals. It’s your choice.”

Dr. Marvin Manzanero
“We have workshops for support groups, we have some condom demonstrations, condom distributions, we have testing taken to public facilities. Sadie Vernon High School is having a testing day later this week. Belize City staff will be doing it a Constitution Park on Friday, PG will have their testing at City Center tomorrow, there’s testing happening at the free zone and many other activities.”

Stigma and discrimination are major deterring factors. As such both areas are being targeted in the campaign.

Bernadine Grinage
“The national logo for today’s event is “Stop the Sadness; meaning stop stigma and discrimination against HIV because we find that these are deterrents why people don’t come to get tested and know their status. Or if they are tested and they are HIV positive, this is what stop them from coming for the follow up treatment that they need so that they can live longer.”

For some, the testing seems to be the biggest nightmare. To offer some insight, I underwent the process today and opted to share the usually confidential experience. It starts with a private consultation with a counselor that serves to document relationship and protection practices as well as to offer assurances that support is available irrespective of the outcome. That is followed by the drawing of blood, which is labeled with a number to conceal the identity. Testing of the blood takes approximately fifteen minutes and is ninety-nine point nine percent accurate. The results are given in the presence of another counselor, who will tell you how to stay negative or what are your treatment options if you are positive. So get tested, know your status and protect yourself and your loved ones. Delahnie Bain for News Five.

A calendar and poster competition coordinated by the Ministries of Health and Education was also launched today.

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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