AIDS in Belize

You can not blame Musa goverment on this one.Enough sex eduction is out there.Everyone know that unprotective sex could lead to STD, or even HIV & AIDS.

If there was truly enough education (is there such a thing) the AIDS statistic would not be what it is.

In other words we need to rethink education from the perspective of results and not just man hours and $$$.

Ch 5:

Resorts sign policies on HIV/AIDS in the workplace

The National AIDS Programme reports that four hundred and fifty new HIV infections were recorded in 2007. With tourism being touted as Belize’s largest employer, it is therefore not far fetched that some of those HIV positive persons are working in that sector. Recognizing that fact, today four resorts took a significant step towards aiding in prevention efforts and the reduction of stigma and discrimination. Kendra Griffith reports from the Chaa Creek Lodge in Cayo.

Kendra Griffith, Reporting
Today was historic for four resorts and their employees as their owners and managers officially signed HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy documents.

Hertha Gentle Barber, Senior Labour Officer
“We’ve never had this many persons signing at the same time or taking HIV into such great consideration.”

The Ka’ana Resort Boutique, The Lodge at Chaa Creek, Five Sisters Lodge and Blancaneaux Lodge all have their reasons for embarking on the project... but their objectives are the same, contribute to the fight against HIV.

Ronaldi Martinez, Activities Supervisor, Blancaneaux Lodge
“It’s a global effort, so by us starting our policy and putting it in place and implementing it’s our little grain of sand, our effort in the global issue. It’s something that we are looking forward to involving ourselves more into community projects and conservation so this is something that it’s not going to help us only as staff, but we can go further and reach to our respective communities and pass on this information. So it’s definitely gonna—we’re gonna target our communities as well.”

Eva Garfield, Deputy General Manager, Ka’ana Resort Boutique
“It was very important for us to make sure have a policy that says if you are HIV positive, your job is protected. That’s the most important thing because the majority of people who have HIV can work.”

Nigel Richards, Resident Mgr., Five Sisters Lodge
“It was a great thing that the establishment realised HIV/AIDS as an epidemic that could have a mass potential in affecting our establishment because our human resources, of course, are the most important thing that makes our company go around. So it’s an active step in protecting them because the policy is an excellent rule of educating our staff. So we reviewed it among our management team and thought it was an excellent idea to take active step against this fight against HIV in the workplace.”

Lucy Fleming, G.M., The Lodge at Chaa Creek
“We have people amongst us, we have youths amongst us, we have employees amongst us who are probably infected. We want to look after their welfare and we want to recognise also, from a humanity standpoint, that they are facing very, very strong issues in today’s world and we want to stand beside them, we want to assist them, and we want to be part of the group who recognise and understand that together we can fight this issue and only together we can achieve that goal.”

The driving force behind the signing was as initiative started several years ago by the Labour Department. Hertha Gentle Barber is a Senior Labour Officer.

Hertha Gentle Barber
“When you look at who is the group that is affected, it’s the person who is between fifteen and forty-nine. So that is the person who is going to be coming into the workforce and the person who is already there. It has be a threat to the workforce and that’s why initiative like this makes it easier to prepare yourself.”

Lucy Fleming
“Many of those people will choose tourism as their career path and so when we look at that, certainly we have to face the fact that this will affect tourism employees in the future.”

Hertha Gentle Barber
“Having the workplace policy document generally prepares the organization so it doesn’t have to be wondering what will I do when HIV comes into my workplace. What you do is that you prepare form now. So whether you have a positive employee or not, what you are doing is providing education. It is more a preventative measure.”

Part of the programme also includes a two-day peer education training for key employees in the resorts.

Eva Garfield
“It’s important that they have somebody they can trust in the organization and even thought they can come to upper management, a lot of times they have this fear of being revealed. And so that’s why it’s important to have a peer counselling programme in the organization itself.”

Hertha Gentle Barber
“What we are doing here is all built on behaviour change because we recognise that there is a lot of information out there but even with the information there's no change in behaviour. Our entire strategy is using B.C.B. or behaviour change communication.”

The Cahal Pech Village Resort is putting the finishing touches on their HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy and will sign it shortly. They encourage other similar businesses to do the same.

Caesar Quiroz, Floor Mgr., Cahal Pech Village Resort
“You have nothing to lose by doing this. It’s only something that you will gain and it’s for your staff and without your staff you can’t do anything.”

Hertha Gentle Barber
“HIV is more than a health issue; it’s a workplace issue. It’s something that along the way, it will cost you.”

Combined, the five resorts employ over three hundred employees. Kendra Griffith reporting for News Five.

According to Senior Labour Officer Hertha Gentle, this week Citrus Products of Belize signed their workplace policy. She reports that the Pelican Beach Resort, and Belize and Belmopan City Council also have policies in place.
Researchers took advantage of the fact that HIV mutates rapidly. So two strains from a common ancestor quickly become less and less alike in their genetic material over time. That allows scientists to "run the clock backward" by calculating how long it would take for various strains to become as different as they are observed to be. That would indicate when they both sprang from their most recent common ancestor.


...this just give me chills...LOL...mutating rapidly...what if the virus finds a different mode of transmission...!!! :scared
Ch 5:

AIDS commission to be expanded

Aside from the bill to amend the Business Tax Act to increase taxes on telecoms and the PICs, which were the big items at last Friday’s House meeting, several other bills were introduced, including one to amend the Belize National AIDS Commission Act. This change would make way for the appointment of an Executive Director and enlarge the members of the Commission. It is not yet known who has been tipped as the Executive Director but the new Commission will be expanded to include a nominee by the Opposition, a representative from the UN theme group on HIV/AIDS and a person with HIV/AIDS. Other bills introduced included three to strengthen financial controls and accountability in the Belize City Council, the Belmopan City Fund and the remaining town councils.
Ch 5:

World AIDS Day observed in Belize

It is estimated that globally there were thirty-three point two million people infected with HIV at the end of 2007. The disease continues to be a prevailing concern, which is why every December first is set aside as World AIDS Day to bring awareness to the epidemic. Locally, statistics show that there were two hundred and twenty-eight new infections in the first six months of 2008 and in 2007, HIV was the fourth leading cause of death in Belize for the overall population and jumped to number one among the thirty to forty-nine age group. As has become the tradition, every year around this time, the Ministry of Health holds a press conference to update the public and its partners on strides made and work yet to be done in the field. The biggest news coming out of this year’s exercise was the release of the National HIV Epidemiological Profile 2003-2007. News Five’s Kendra Griffith has the findings.

Dr. Marvin Manzanero, Director, Nat’l AIDS Program
“I think it’s good data, lots of data. It took lots of work from the Epidemiology Unit to compile the data and it will allow us to take a critical look at where we have been in the last five years.”

Kendra Griffith, Reporting
Some of the information coming out of the profile was not necessarily new, such as the HIV epidemic is most concentrated among the fifteen to forty-nine year old population... eighty-three percent to be exact. Five percent of HIV infections also occurred in the zero to fourteen year old population. But there were some blows when it came to testing.

Ethan Gough, National Epidemiologist
“We see that nationally we have had a forty-four point three percent decrease in the amount of persons tested countrywide every year and that represents an average decrease of six hundred and eleven persons tested per hundred thousand population per year. When we look at the prevalence of HIV among the persons who have been tested, we see an increase from 2003 to 2007 of sixty-two point one percent. We went from a prevalence of three point one to five point O. That can be partly explained by the fact that we have tested less people, but the number of cases that we identify every year has not changed.”

Ethan Gough, the National Epidemiologist in the Ministry of Health, assisted in compiling the data.

Ethan Gough
“We’ve done some estimates, some estimation, some projections with a UNAIDS software called Spectrum that shows that the incidence has actually decreased in the past five years, incidence meaning the proportion of the population that are new cases.”

In terms of distribution, women continue to be tested more than men, but the report also shows that in spite of feminization fears, men continue to show higher rates of new infections. When it came to access to anti-retrovirals, at the end of 2007, five hundred and fifty-eight patients were on medication out of a possible one thousand one hundred and fifty-one, representing forty-eight point five percent.

The brightest star in the HIV response so far is the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission program which continues to enjoy a high rate of success with eighty-eight percent of pregnant women getting tested over the five year period and just as high rates of testing and medication to babies.

At today’s ceremony several persons involved in the PMTCT program since its inception were awarded for their contributions.

The purpose of the five-year profile is to provide an analysis of data collected, summarize patterns and trends of the disease, provide insight into the progress made in prevention and policy and planning implications. And while the average reader looks at the document and sees gloom and doom, those in the trenches are looking on the bright side.

Ruth Jaramillo, Executive Dir., National AIDS Program
“While yes, the picture may seem gloomy, there’s actually a lot of positive coming out of there. In Belize the national response has demonstrated commitment because you have now access to ARVs, HIV testing, also comparatively in the region, coverage is relatively high. So that is something we should encourage and promote. Where we are weak in and need more strengthening are the support services.”

Dr. Marvin Mazanero
“It tells us that we need to work. As Ethan mentioned in his conclusion, one of the things we are seeing is that we are trying to catch up to the epidemic. We still haven’t gotten there and that’s why we think the numbers look kind of bleak. I also highlighted, I don’t think we’re running out of time. I think we still have time if we do adequate planning based on the statistics that we have to meet our targets, which is to start to reduce incidence of HIV by 2015.”

Ruth Jaramillo
“This was an important step, the fact that we have new information, more up to date information, it’s critical. This will open the eyes of many of us or partners who are engaged in the response, as I mentioned before, to rethink the strategies. But there have been also a lot of successes I think that also has to be stressed.”

At the end of the conference, several attendees commemorated World AIDS Day by taking an HIV test. Kendra Griffith reporting for News Five.
Ch 7: Aids numbers continue to climb

You’ve seen the ads, the billboards, heard the songs – but no matter how much public awareness is put out there – the Aids numbers just continue to climb. There were two-thousand, two hundred and twenty one cases of HIV reported between 2003 and 2007 and the majority of them were males; most of the cases came from the Belize District and most are aged between 15 and 49 years old. Belize still has the highest prevalence rate of HIV in Central America and the third highest in the Caribbean – behind the Bahamas and Haiti.

Today all that was put on the table as the Ministry of Health presented its epidemiological profile from 2003 to 2007. It’s an important four year benchmark and a time for stock-taking to see what has been working and what hasn’t. Here’s what the numbers show.

Jules Vasquez Reporting,
The numbers are out – in this report and they are not good. Most worryingly it shows that fewer people are being tested - that’s the purple line, and – from that smaller group – more people are turning up positive- that’s the blue line.

Ethan Gough, Ministry of Health
“We are seeing a significant reduction in the number of people who have been tested on an annual basis by the public system. We don’t really know how many tests are done in private facilities but for the Ministry of Health we have seen like I said a significant reduction in the number of tests that we have done.”

To underscore that it is a priority Minister of Health Pablo Marin volunteered for his test today:

Ruth Jaramillo, National Aids Commission
“More people need to go forward with testing and we need to ask the question: what is preventing persons from going forward.”

And while many more women are tested, that’s the pink bar, men have a significantly higher rate of HIV infection, that’s the blue line which spiked up last year. AIDS related deaths – that’s the brown bar at the bottom – have been more or less stable but there are more people living with HIV and AIDS.

New cases of HIV are being most reported in the Belize District – that’s the green line way at the top and Stann Creek – that’s the purple line about a quarter ways up. And while those are new infections, cases of full blown AIDS are highest in the Belize District – that’s the Yellow line with Cayo – the black line and Stann Creek having the second and third most cases.

Ruth Jaramillo,
“Based on this information as you rightly pointed out we need to rethink our strategies: what it is we’re doing right and what is it we need to change or focus on and what are the areas of support that we need to engage in.”

But they need to come up with solutions quickly and that means reaching out and testing those who have gone undetected.

Dr. Marvin Manzanero, National Aids Program
“I think what we need to do as Ethan mentioned in his presentation is target those specific high risk groups that seem to be invisible to the health system; the female sex workers, the men who have sex with men, the partners of men who have sex with men. Those factors or those groups within society that are considered to be vulnerable, we need to start making strategies to better be able to reach them. By 2012 if we keep on with the strategies that we have implemented and put on newer strategies, and I think we’re talking about marketing strategies in prevention efforts, we may able to start making a dent by 2015. I don’t think we’re doing planning for this year or next year. It is a long term planning process.”

And in the short term, there are successes to report.

Ruth Jaramillo,
“For example the prevention of mother to child, what that indicates for us is a positive way forward. Why? Because when you do that program you are actually representing the general population. You heard prevalence is 1.3 overall. That means that when you do an intervention with that population you have a higher impact on the general population. And one important thing that was not emphasized Jules is that less people are actually dying of Aids. That’s a big achievement also. That reflects that the disease is now being addressed more chronical, like the way it is supposed to be as a chronic disease.”

One Doctor, Cardo Martinez said they have made strides that no statistic can measure:

Dr. Cardo Martinez, Paediatrician
“We’ve come a very very far way. I remember when we had kids that came in to the ward and nobody wanted to touch them. That’s not a hundred years ago man. Come on, I am younger than a lot of you here and a little bit older than most of you. I remember when we had to use our own vehicles because there was no transport in the Ministry of Health. You can’t take that for granted man, that is a cost – that is a commitment to this nation, that is conviction to its people. You can’t take that lightly man.”

Gough estimates that there is 30% under-reporting – which means that for every three cases reported, one goes un-reported. About 80 people die per year from Aids related conditions in Belize.
Ch 5:

Video on AIDS in the workplace released

In December 2005, Belize’s Cabinet approved the National Policy on HIV/AIDS and the National Policy on HIV/AIDS in the World of Work. Since then, work has commenced on reviewing the current legislation to bring them in line with the policies and give their much needed teeth of enforcement. But while that process is going through its lengthy motions, infected persons continue to be stigmatized and discriminated against not only in their homes but on the job, which is where the Ministry of Labour comes in. News Five’s Kendra Griffith reports.

Kendra Griffith, Reporting
This morning the Ministry of Labour launched its latest tool in championing the need for HIV policies in the workplace... it’s a video entitled Creating Change.

Hertha Gentle Barber, Senior Labour Officer
“The video is an ILO initiative and the plan is that we are going to be using it when we do training because, like I had mentioned, everything we do is based on behaviour change communication and so we are going to be using it as a behaviour change communication tool. It highlights the efforts that companies have been making across the world and it highlights efforts in Benin, Belize, Indonesia and Swaziland. It is going to be looking at what companies have been doing for their staff, what they have been doing as a company on a whole.”

“The group of people most affected by HIV and AIDS is the group between fifteen and forty-nine that is the people within the most reproductive and productive years. So while I can’t say company X has so many people positive, I can say there is a high possibility that every workplace in this country has somebody in there who is positive or who may become positive.”

With an employed labour force of over a hundred thousand persons, some of those infected persons are working for businesses that are members of the Belize Chamber of Commerce.

Amparo Masson, President, Belize Chamber of Commerce
“We have to be really, really concerned, especially when we look at the statistics and we know that the incidents of infections are increasing. I believe that we have a responsibility to work with the National AIDS Commission in terms of looking at the national plan and to see how we can get businesses to involved to really try and minimize the incidence of infections. The business community is pressed with a lot of economic issues and so forth, but it’s something that we do recognize the importance of it and it’s something that we have to accelerate the process with which we try to get businesses involved.”

Since the Ministry of Labour began the program in 2003, approximately twenty-five hundred employees have been given protection through the implementation of workplace policies. This morning, the Cahal Pech Resort joined the ranks of those with workplace policies by officially signing their document. Senior Labour Officer Hertha Gentle, says while the program has been successful, they still struggle with getting businesses to sign on.

Hertha Gentle Barber
“We’ve recently had one company who has said to us that they do not feel that it is necessary in their workplace. To those companies, I would like to say that it is always going to be necessary. HIV might itself not be at your workplace, but these people come from communities, they have families, they have friends and so it is going to impact us at some level even if not work.”

The Ministry of Labour also recognized several businesses and employees for their successful implementation of workplace programs. Among the awardees were Alice Bowman of the Pelican Beach Resort, one of the first resorts to sign a policy, the Belize and Belmopan city council and four Cayo resorts who signed policies last month.

But it was Citrus Products of Belize Limited which was the best in show, taking home three awards for outstanding company, outstanding focal point person, Dwight Montero, and for their peer educators.

Hertha Gentle Barber
“They stood out because they were not afraid from the very beginning, they were never afraid. They had the drive, they shared with other companies who were interested and the support within C.P.B.L. came from the very top, right from Mr. Canton right down to the man at the bottom.”

Albourn Roches, a machinist mechanic, is one of the C.P.B.L.’s ten peer educators.

Albourn Roches, Peer Educator, C.P.B.L.
“I got involved in it simply because I think there is a need to be educated about it so that I can tell my family, my friends and also my co-workers about getting HIV does not mean the end of the world. We go around, we have our area that we have condom distribution area. From time to time we would pull over the employees of C.P.B.L. and educate them about HIV and AIDS.”

Hertha Gentle
“The work continues, I hoping that the work becomes more abundant for us after today because next month we have twenty-three new companies that we are working with and they are various sizes, so the work definitely continues.”

Kendra Griffith reporting for News Five.

The video was created for SHARE, Strategic HIV/AIDS Response in Enterprises, an ILO education programme which reaches six hundred and fifty businesses in twenty-four countries.
Ch7 : Employers and AIDS

Imagine going to work and having your boss tell you about HIV safety and making condoms available for employees. It sounds unthinkable for most workplaces but that’s what the Labor Office has encouraged many workplaces to do. Today they celebrated those employers who have done it. Jacqueline Godwin was there.

Jacqueline Godwin Reporting,
Did you know that in 2007 fourth leading cause of death among persons between the ages of 30 and 40 was because of HIV and in 2008 there are already 228 new infections. But of critical concern is the fact that studies are revealing that persons between the ages of 15 and 49 are being most impacted. That is why today’s gathering focusing on behavioural change in the workplace is so important in the fight against HIV and Aids.

When you think that more than 50% of Belize’s population is under thirty then we do know HIV and Aids is impeding economic development because the condition does result in the loss of skills and experience in the workplace. Since 2003 businesses both in the public and private sectors have been encouraged to implement an HIV and Aids policy in the workplace.

Jacqueline Godwin,
What have been the challenges getting these businesses on board?

Hertha Gentle, Acting Deputy Labour Commissioner
“Well Jackie you know everybody is afraid of HIV and we like to say in Belize we fraida so I think it has been a level of fear but we have had good responses but like I said challenges. Some of the challenges were some of the companies who felt that HIV simply wasn’t a issue for them, you also had the workers, while you had management buying in and some workers were fearful in saying we don’t need to talk about this because it won’t happen to me. So those have been some of the challenges.”

Under the International Labour Organization project a total of eighteen workplaces have successfully completed the training and the Belize Labour Department helped five companies in the tourism industry to get onboard. Today those who have helped in the success of the programme were awarded for their contribution in the workplace.

Alice Bowman, Owner – Pelican Beach Resort
“All employers should be able to take a good look at this because people are already assembled; it is easier to contact and to continue this education in the workplace.”

Alice Bowman owner of Pelican Beach Resort that employs up to sixty people was the first establishment to implement the HIV and Aids Policy.

Alice Bowman,
“Well to be honest with you I took a very practical look at it and I thought it was a natural thing, it is something that we need to know about and I got very good response from our staff when I first mentioned it. So it took from there and we don’t have any problems at all talking about it in the workplace.”

Jacqueline Godwin,
What exactly is done at Pelican Beach Resort?

Alice Bowman,
“Well mostly I talk to the staff on a one to one basis because sometimes it could be embarrassing for people to open up and talk to everybody. I find that very effective. I am always discussing and advising. As an older member of our community I think that people perhaps are a little bit more open or feel a little more confident that it is confidential, the discussions.”

Five years later the management of Cahal Pech is hoping to achieve the same level of success as it gets ready to work along with its fifty employees.

Ceasar Quiroz, Floor Manager – Cahal Pech
“We know that the HIV situation in Belize is getting very big and with that we decided to take the leadership and implement a work place policy so that our staff can be protected from discrimination and stigma towards work.”

Jacqueline Godwin,
So what now will be done at Cahal Pech?

Ceasar Quiroz,
“Well what we do with our staff, we’re starting to get like publications on HIV and stuff like that and we get organizations to come in and speak to the staff.”

The Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry says there is a need for concern because HIV and Aids if left unattended can cripple a country’s economy.

Amparo Masson, President BCCI
“For companies specifically it disrupts and reduces production while at the same time increases the cost of labour and puts at risk the skills, experience, expertise, as well as the future of the workforce. And if you think that 90% of those infected don’t know it, we may well be up for a surprise if we leave this situation unattended.”

Sandra Paredez, Chair – UN Theme Group
“HIV is a major threat to the world of work. It is affecting the most productive segment of the labour force and reducing earnings. It is imposing huge costs on enterprises in all sectors through declining productivity, increasing labour costs, and loss of skills and experience.”

Today the Ministry of Labour also launched Creating Change, a workplace behaviour change communication film that will be used to show what other countries including Belize have been doing in the workplace.

Hertha Gentle,
“The program entails preventative education, bottom line, and we do it on a backdrop of behaviour change communication because we realize as a country we have been doing excellent work in providing information but as a people we have not changed behaviour. So our target is providing education for prevention using behaviour change as the model.”

Employees are not required to take a HIV and Aids test rather participate in a survey and educational talks.

Hertha Gentle,
“The purpose of the survey is to assess their knowledge, attitudes, practices and behaviour, bottom-line, and that information we then use to help plan the training session that is geared towards individual organizations. So we come as a group but you walk away with your individual plans and policies.”

Jacqueline Godwin,
So it is a simple procedure. Why the need to be scared?

Hertha Gentle,
“Exactly, very simple but it is something that is new to us and we’re are so afraid of it and everything. What we used to think of cancer in the past is the same thing happening now and I really hope we get to the point where we don’t do this anymore. We could just get into the training and people have no issue.”

According to Deputy Labour Commissioner Hertha Gentle at the start of the New Year they are looking forward to working with an additional twenty three businesses. Jacqueline Godwin reporting for 7NEWS.
Ch 5:

Healthy Living dispels myths about HIV/AIDS

It’s a disease that is prevalent in Belize and statistics show the number of persons infected on an upward trend. But there are many myths about this virus and Healthy Living this week dispels some of the most common fallacies.

Marleni Cuellar, Reporting
It is estimated that worldwide as many as thirty-three point two million people are infected with HIV. It is a peculiar disease that is preventable, treatable, but not curable. Most in Belize have some understanding of HIV and AIDs. But coupled with the wealth of information available, are some common misconceptions that continue to foster misinformation within our society.

Tashera Swift is an HIV/AIDS educator for the Belize Red Cross. She coordinates a peer education program specifically designed to educate young people on the facts about HIV and Aids.

Tashera Swift, Belize Red Cross, TWC Program
“The Together We can Program is the Red Cross, HIV, and STI peer education program where we provide HIV prevention awareness with young people between the ages of ten to twenty-four. Basically, we train young persons as peer educators in the hope that after being trained they’ll go out into their communities among their peers and pass on the information that they’ve learned in the training through interactive sessions.”

Tashera recently earned the Youth Activist Award for her work through T.W.C. She shares with us some of the common myths and misconceptions that she encounters when educating young persons about HIV and AIDS. Dr. Paul Edwards is the Acting Central Health Region Manager, he along with Tashera help us to dispel these myths by providing the facts.

Tashera Swift
“Some of the common misconceptions that young people tend to have when it comes to contracting HIV. There’s the myth that if a boy has sex with a girl who is a virgin and say the young man is HIV positive, then in having sex with a virgin he’d be cured of the virus.”

Dr. Paul Edwards, Acting Central Health Region Manager
“I’d want to start from the last part. There is absolutely no cure for HIV/AIDS at the present moment and therefore, it is definitely a myth. It is something that is false.”

Tashera Swift
“Another myth that we encountered in the trainings and doing sessions with the young people has to do with how HIV is contracted. When we look at having sex most young men have the idea that if they ‘strap up’—if they use two condoms—then that protects them from contracting an STI.
In terms of the myth that we normally encounter when it comes to doubling up for added protection using; two condoms in terms of reducing ones risk of contracting HIV, that myth is false. In using two latex condoms together at the same time there’s a lot of friction involved when you’re having sex and two rubbers rubbing against each other with the friction the condoms will burst and making the whole point of using a condom ineffective. Using one latex condom with a water based lubricant in order to protect yourself an your partner from exchange of body fluids and the transmission of an STI. So in using two condoms it just increases the risk of the condom breaking and risk of transmission of HIV or a STI or even an unplanned pregnancy.”

“Another myth that we found or another reason as to why young men are not using condoms is the fact that they find that the condoms are too tight and there’s no size for them. We always get young men who say well miss I try using a condom but there just no condom out there that could fit me. That myth, sad to say guys, is false. Any condom, once used correctly and consistently fits any size. It’s just a matter of making sure that you place the condom on properly. And in our condom demonstrations what we normally do, we get a condom and put the condom, make a fist and roll the condom unto our hands and for the most part we have a lot of guys who are left with their mouths open in awe and when asked now in terms of “what do you think? Is there a condom that can fit you?” I usually get a very hushed audience.”

Marleni Cuellar
“So a condom can fit everybody?”

Tashera Swift
“Yes, it can fit everybody so there’s no reason to say that I won’t use one because there is none that can fit me or it would be too tight. They’re one size fits all.”

“Another myth is that all persons who are HIV positive would show symptoms that they are in fact living with the virus or if they have aids and some of the symptoms we would normally hear is ‘oh miss deh have rashes on their skin’. So they’re all under the impression that if you are HIV positive everybody would know.”

Dr. Paul Edwards
“Definitely for HIV there are no characteristic symptoms associated with HIV as compared to someone who has AIDS. When you talk about AIDS you’re talking about the weight loss, more than ten percent of your base line, body weight. You’re talking about diarrhea, more than two times a day for more than thirty days. You talk about consistent fever, more than thirty days. You talk about the skin lesions, you talk about the fungal infections, you talk about the adenopathy or the swelling of lymph nodes. But that is characteristic of AIDS. When you talk about HIV, there isn’t any symptom as if to say, because you have this, clearly you’re HIV positive.”

Tashera Swift
“Another myth when we look at how HIV is transmitted is the misconception that if two persons are HIV positive and they’re in a relationship and having unprotected sex, then that its okay for them to do so because they are already HIV positive so there’s no additional risk that they need to take into consideration.”

Dr. Paul Edwards
“No, it’s not okay because we can say there are different subtypes of the virus and there are many different kinds. If you have one and the other person doesn’t have and you have sexual activity, you can pass that one you have to the other person. So that person can acquire a different subtype. So it is not recommended for two persons who are HIV positive to have sexual activity without protection.”

Tashera Swift
“Another myth that’s still prevalent in Belize is the whole issue that having HIV is a death sentence. Finding out your results means that you will die.”

Dr. Paul Edwards
“Certainly not; not today. And especially in Belize, since the year 2003 we’ve been offering Anti retrovirals since 2003. But we must remember that HIV/AIDS is now a chronic disease just like we’ve spoken about diabetes and hypertension, we said as well, that there is not a cure. So knowing your status early, taking your medication at the appropriate time and consistently, as indicated by your doctor, it has been prove that you can live ten, fifteen years more just like diabetes, just like hypertension; no cure, medications are there and with proper nutrition, sleeping well, no drinking, no partying, good hygiene. Those are other factors that contribute to create synergy and works along with medication and you can live many, many, many more productive years. So it’s not a death sentence.”

The misconceptions about HIV and AIDS are many; if you do not get your facts clear you may engage in risky behaviour that may lessen your protection against getting infected or it may foster the stigma and discrimination present in our society. Factual information on HIV and AIDS is easily accessible at local NGO’s, the National Aids Commission and, with technology, on the internet. Get your facts right so that you can be able to protect yourself.
Ch 7:

U.S. Grants $52,000 for HIV Prevention Programs

With the change of administration in Washington, U.S. Ambassador Robert Dieter will be leaving office, but before he does, he’s got some money to give away. Today the Embassy handed out cheques totalling fifty two thousand dollars to bolster HIV awareness projects. It’s part of the Caribbean Ambassadors’ HIV Prevention Programme where the Embassy receives a number of applications annually requesting support for to address issues like prevention, stigma and discrimination. In 2008 four recipients were awarded. The Belize Red Cross, Equity House, the Family Life Education Unit in the Ministry of Education and the Young Women’s Christian Association. 7NEWS caught up with the awardees and the Ambassador following the short ceremony held today at the YWCA.

Robert Dieter, U.S. Ambassador to Belize
“In the Caribbean there is a special program for Ambassadors to make small grant awards to local grassroots community organizations that are not likely to receive funding from other sources and so today’s is the fifth of these ceremonies. The money is intended to get out the message of to get tested, to know your status, to know your partner’s status, and to work towards prevention. In addition, it is to promote messages of anti-stigma and discrimination because stigma and discrimination is the largest barrier to people getting tested.”

Tashera Swift, Red Cross
“The money that we receive through the US Ambassador Fund will help us to further create an awareness and produce messages on bags that we think young people will be able to draw their attention or might captivate young persons. The message focuses again on reducing stigma and discrimination.”

Patricia Uhlir, Equity House
“Equity House is a healthcare center and we work with any healthcare needs from people from Sittee River, Hopkins Village, and anyone who comes in. Our plans for the money is to educate all and anyone who comes in for HIV and Aids prevention.”

Sonia Linares, YWCA
“For these program what we will do is to hold a forum for young women because we feel that there is a need to sensitize our young women more. We know they have some information but how they are taking that information and using it in their daily lives is another matter and so we will try to come up with an innovative way of holding a forum that will give the young people the message so that they can use the information in a positive way.”

Robert Dieter,
“We look for groups that have particularly innovative ideas and also groups that are not likely to get funding from other sources and also groups that we’ve worked with in the past who’ve demonstrated their effectiveness in getting the message out.”

Nelson Longsworth, Ministry of Education
“We have been running this competition, it is a poster competition, yearly and in fact this is the third year we’re having this initiative where the focus is for the young adolescents to be able to express themselves through a poster, to educate their peers in reducing stigma and discrimination, and also for prevention of HIV infection. The posters are then judged by their peers so we would have days when other schools would interact with the posters and they vote and they select what the posters they like the best and at the same time obviously they are gaining a lot of the messages that are being sent through the posters. This is a very interactive way of engaging the young people.”

The Family Life Education Unit in the Ministry of Education received the largest amount of twenty thousand, two hundred and fifty dollars. Since the programme started the U.S. Embassy in Belize has funded thirty nine initiatives totalling two hundred and sixty nine thousand dollars.
Ch 5:

UNICEF focusing on malnutrition among children
Belize was the fifth country in the world to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990. Protecting the rights of children and meeting the goals of the convention have been top on the agenda for the United Nation’s Children’s Fund in Belize. UNICEF is now in phase three of a five year plan to achieve certain goals by 2011. On Tuesday, the organization, along with related N.G.O.s and government representatives, met in Belmopan to sign the 2009 Annual Work Plan. Country Representative for UNICEF in Belize, Rana Flowers calls this year’s two point six million dollar plan an ambitious one. News Five’s Delahnie Bain sat down with Flowers today to get a break down of the plan and has this report.

Delahnie Bain Reporting
The 2009 Annual Work Plan will focus on protecting children and helping in their development. This cycle of the plan will give priority to chronic malnutrition and other challenges facing the youths.

Rana Flowers, Country Representative, UNICEF
“So we want to look at specifically what are the micronutrients, what are the children not getting in their diet, and then how can we support families to improve their diets and to improve the nutrition levels of their children but also of the women because if a pregnant woman is suffering from chronic malnutrition then you’ll find that the babies are born with less resilience and often underweight. It looks at early childhood education, which is something that we feel is very important. All the evidence tells us that if you invest in that first period, then you don’t see the school drop-out, you don’t see the balance, you don’t see other problems that would manifest themselves when the children reach adolescence.”

“Quality education; big issue. We really want to support the government in terms of turning around the kind of indicators that we’re seeing in education. How do we do that? We’re gonna do it in partnership with the Ministry of Education to introduce child friendly schools. And then the program looks at the whole community also as a safe space. So it really is taking the picture of the community, the school and then the family. So we’re trying to address those three levels to try and reach the children at the different milestones, at the different transition moments with the kinds of support that they need.”

Another pressing issue in Belize is the HIV rate, a problem that is mostly linked to adults. But when an expecting mother is infected, the child is also at risk.

Rana Flowers
“Not taking our eye off HIV, the need to look at mother to child transmission and make sure women know they must go and get care in that first trimester so that we can ensure that they have the iron and the nutrients that they need to produce the healthiest babies possible. And also looking at prevention of HIV among young people. Then the final element of the HIV effort is very much looking at the care and protection of children who are already living with families or living themselves with HIV.

While the plan has produced sound results in previous years, Flowers says they are now taking a different approach for a better outcome.

Rana Flowers
“What is missing is that integration so within UNICEF we’re saying let’s not do that silo approach anymore, let’s really go to a way of working with the government and working with the non-government organizations that forces us all to integrate better because if you don’t integrate well then you’re missing some of the elements that the children need and the families need but you’re also missing some of the children.”

With all those plans in place, we asked Flowers to address concerns that UNICEF may be withdrawing its services from Belize. She says that after much debate, it was decided that not only will UNICEF remain in Belize, its budget has increased. Delahnie Bain for News Five.

And in respect with the Millennium Development Goals signed in the year 2000, Flowers says we’re on track… in some areas.
UNICEF works in collaboration with local and municipal government bodies, Statistical Institute of Belize, Hand in Hand Ministries, POWA, Red Cross, Y.E.S., N.C.F.C., National Commission for Women, and the National AIDS Commission.
Ch 7:

9 Companies Sign Onto Aids in the Workplace Policy

Six years after an effort was initiated to get employers to implement a policy on HIV and Aids in their workplace, today nine out of fourteen participating companies signed policies cementing their support for their programme. Jacqueline Godwin found out why this small step forward, is a giant leap for Aids awareness.

Jacqueline Godwin Reporting,
Today nine companies signed the policy that they will use to put their plan of action into effect. The fact is it is the working age group that is being most affected. That is why today’s signing by nine companies becomes very significant to stop the spread of HIV and Aids and it also protects the rights of those employees who may be infected or affected by the disease.

Rodel Beltran Perrera, Exec. Dir. - Alliance Against Aids
“That that person is treated properly, that they continue to receive their salaries, they are able to continue to work in certain conditions if they are put at risk depending on the job that they are doing, that companies respect employees who are HIV+ as well as their families because the policy does also touch on caring not only for the employee but also caring for the family member.”

The private companies and organizations who now have in place an HIV and Aids workplace policy are the Belize Red Cross, the Angelus Press Limited, Sagicor, Belize Ship Handlers, Belize Fruit Bomba Limited and Belize Fruit Packers Limited, Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Belize Natural Energy, the Radisson Fort George and Grace Kennedy Belize Limited.

Alberto Young, General Manager - Grace Kennedy
“And we cannot afford to lose people by not participating or not educating enough and I think that is crucial to our operations. We’ve been in Belize 27 years and it could not have been without people so its just natural that we would support such a program.”

Jacqueline Godwin,
What is expected of Grace Kennedy?

Alberto Young,
“Well it is expected that we don’t discriminate and that we handle information confidentially. We are now more aware of how we handle such cases and that we have a network of support and it happens through education and it happens through non-discrimination because people with HIV/Aids can still be functional and work and so on and so it is just how we handle it. I think once their colleagues are aware of the policy then it is a matter of education and people accepting how we do things differently when it comes to HIV/Aids in the workplace.”

The companies have had to undergo a series of training sessions to equip them with the skills to implement the policy. One of the biggest signatories is the Radisson Fort George with a total of one hundred and fifty employees.

Jim Scott, General Manager - Radisson Fort George Hotel
“I think it is very important in today’s society that we are all aware, we take responsibility for what is happening with out personal health, with our community health, and of course that comes right back to corporate responsibility that all of us have within the context of our staff, our team, our family, and of course our community. It will involve education, lifestyle change, and of course counselling mechanisms to support an unbiasly and indiscriminately to support understanding of HIV infection in our community and in our workplace.”

Jacqueline Godwin,
Nine out of fourteen signed today. When you consider the number of companies out there, that’s only a drop in the bucket but you are encouraged no doubt.

Hertha Gentle Barber, Senior Labour Officer
“Definitely encouraged because this is nine out of fourteen today but by the end of the month it will be all fourteen. We had some companies, for example Courts, who weren’t able to sign today for different reasons but by the end of the month they are going to be onboard. We have companies for example like Scotia Bank which is an extremely large organization with branches all over this country. They haven’t signed today because they are doing something from an international level which will then trickle down to Scotia Bank Belize. So it is a drop in the bucket but a couple drops is better than none at all.”

Recent statistics reveal that the number of infections overall has levelled off but the survey continues to show an increase of new infections in vulnerable areas.

Rodel Beltran Perrera,
“For example vulnerable populations, young persons, women, men who have sex with men, the epidemic is increasing in certain areas. So right now our statistic is close to almost bordering 5,000 persons who have been infected with HIV and Aids, nearing 5,000 please don’t get me with that. It is nearing 5,000 of persons who have been infected since 1986.”

According to Rodel Beltran Perrera the Executive Director for Alliance Against Aids in the past year they recorded four hundred and twenty five new HIV cases.

Rodel Beltran Perrera,
“It is showing a slight increase, that we’re seeing the average per person per day newly infected is not one person per day anymore. It is an average nearing 2, it is 1.8% so we’re seeing more cases on a daily basis and that is of great concern to us. In vulnerable populations we are seeing increases in the virus, the infection of the virus. Let’s not confuse people. It is amongst certain populations that we are seeing an increase.”

Hertha Gentle Barber,
“You see how we are in a frenzy because of swine flu, we are not in a frenzy because HIV. So what we’re trying to do is to give the attention that HIV needs, that it is an issue and we need to deal with it and we believe the workplace is the best place to do it.”

Rodel Beltran Perrera,
“I want to make a call to companies out there in the private sector, find out about what this policy is, what are the benefits, what are the benefits for you as an employer as well as what are the benefits for your employee. We want to keep a healthy Belize and we want to keep a healthy workplace.”

Hertha Gentle Barber,
“Our statistics continue to show us that it is persons who are getting ready to come to work and people who are already at work. If we sit and do nothing we will have a problem. So what we’re trying to create here is an environment where if you’re positive, you have support. You will want to come to work. If you’re not positive then you’d want to remain that way via the education and information that you get.”

Jacqueline Godwin reporting for 7News.
UNICOMER signs onto HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy

Belize has the third highest rate of infection of HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean and despite continued public education, the news is that the number of cases continues to escalate. Stigma and discrimination in the workplace have been identified as the major obstacles in the fight against the illness. One initiative that has come on stream to tackle these issues is the HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy which is now adopted by various businesses to protect employees. Earlier this month, nine of the fourteen companies involved in the program officially signed their policies. They were joined today by Unicomer Belize Limited, which includes Courts Belize Limited and Tropigas. The company has been working toward today’s signing since February of this year and with a staff of over two hundred in branches countrywide, Unicomer is the largest organization to establish an HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy. We got more details at this morning’s signing.

Gina Gainford, Training Coordinator, Unicomer Belize Ltd.
“Since we did the first workshop back in February, we’ve been doing training sessions throughout the branches on the actual education that we’ve been having ourselves so far on the policy and also on fear and stigma discrimination and we’ve been sending out our peer educators, along with myself and PASMO to the different branches and educating our employees on the policy and obviously on some of the stuff that took place in the workshops. If they do present themselves and tell us that they are infected with HIV/AIDS, it gives them some leeway in regards to if they need to go and visit the doctor, if they need some time off because of the sickness that comes along with it. There's leeway there that helps them to revive themselves back to come back to work. “

Keith Slater, Managing Director, Unicomer
” It basically, is an awareness program for us. I think, as a group, Unicomer and the region has been working to develop an HIV/AIDS Policy internally. We actually have that policy and the one we signed here today is a slight adoption of that, so we’re a little bit ahead of the game. But we’re very pleased that we’ve been able to get to this stage.”

Rodel Beltran Perrera, Executive Dir., Alliance Against AIDS
”We’re gonna see much more persons on board in responding to HIV and AIDS, but specific to alleviating one of our major problems, which is stigma and discrimination. And if we’re saying that the work place is the—persons that are employed are persons that are high at risk and are getting infected, according to our epidemiological data, is that if we go to where that center is and put in these policies then we’re going to see better treatment of employees and we’re going to see better treatment of people living with HIV.”

Keith Slater
”I believe what we’re trying to say to them is that this is how it really is, this is what we propose to do going forward, education is the greatest tool you have; be aware, get tested. “

According to both Gainford and Slater, the size of their staff was no obstacle in getting the policy in place.
Ch 5:

Workplace policy to prevent HIV discrimination

The number of HIV/AIDS cases continues to rise in the Jewel and stands at over four thousand; it is estimated that between seven to eight persons die monthly from the disease. This worrisome trend has prompted the Labour Department to encourage organizations to implement a workplace policy that protects employees from discrimination. Over twenty companies have signed up and they met today at the Coastal Zone Management office to bring out new ideas on how to treat employees that are afflicted. News Five’s Delahnie Bain reports.

Delahnie Bain, Reporting
Organizations countrywide are getting on board with the HIV workplace Policy Program, coordinated by the Labour Department. The companies that have already signed on are meeting at the Coastal Zone Management office for a refresher course for peer educators.

Hertha Gentle-Barber, Sr. Labour Officer, Labour Department
“The groups are working on making plans that they can use within their organizations, about how they roll out their programs, how they get it going for those who have been in a little lull. And for those who are just getting started, they are getting advice on the challenges that they may face, different things that they can use within their own organizations. Today’s event is very important because we need to make sure that after we’re done training with people, that people don’t feel like they are out there on their own. And we need to make sure that the information we’ve presented remains very fresh in their minds and that the information they present to their people are accurate information.”

The Citrus Growers Association (CGA) also used today’s activity to officially become a member of the program, with the signing of its workplace policy.

Ian Rosado, HIV Policy Focal Point, Citrus Growers Association
“CGA realized that HIV in the workplace is a very critical issue and we in the geographic hotspot in Belize, in the Stann Creek District, we needed to safeguard the rights of our staff.”

Delahnie Bain
“What does your policy entail?”

Ian Rosado
“We don’t tolerate discrimination and stigma, care and support and the other ILO code of practice.”

Hertha Gentle-Barber
“CGA has been working with us since 2003, but from those inside, they were the only company who didn’t have a policy in place. So today they decided that they were going to sign on. So everybody in there have policies. I think among them are Grace Kennedy, we have Citrus Products of Belize Limited and we also have people who came from Belize City Council and Belmopan City Council and Cahal Pech Resort in San Ignacio.”

The Citrus Growers Association is the twenty-first organization to sign the workplace policy. Delahnie Bain for News Five.

Gentle says they are currently working to recruit a group of nine companies including the Belize Social Security Board, Development Finance Cooperation and PACT.
Ch 5:

Healthy Living looks at commercial sexual exploitation

HIV/AIDS is a disease that threatens humanity. The methods of transmission, treatment and prevention are frequently discussed but the contributory factors of the spread of the disease are not as commonly exposed. Healthy living this week looks at one social issue that often times falls under the radar but contributes to the growing number of AIDS cases and has serious implications on the sexual health of victims. This week we look at the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Marleni Cuellar, Reporting
In Belize like most other countries, children are regarded as our most precious resource. They are offered special protection under the laws catering to their vulnerabilities. But with the rapid development of any nation comes growing pains and in the case of Belize the children have not been left unscathed. The Department of Human Services is the agency that responds when a child has been exploited. Director of the Department of Human Services tells us more about commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Ava Pennil, Director, Department of Human Service
“The commercial exploitation of children is when children are exploited sexually for a transaction. There is a payment. The payment may not only be monetary, it can be in kind, it can be for opportunities, it can be for access to different services. So it’s a payment for sexual services of children. The issue with commercial sexual exploitation is that it is under the radar so to speak because the persons involved, the exploiters, are usually close confidants of the child, they are usually people that are in the child’s life that are persons that the child keeps in high regard or they are the guardian of the children. So they are usually the exploiters. So it’s keep secret; it’s kept hidden.”

Marleni Cuellar
“Commercial sexual exploitation of children is not uncommon in other societies. In Belize, though, it has taken several forms from incest, to the case of ‘Suga Daddies’, and the involvement of children in sex tourism.”

“Suga Daddy” is the term used to describe the sexual exploitation of a child in exchange for financial rewards for basic needs ranging from tuition to rent or footing food bills. Another recent form of exploitation has surfaced with the expanding tourism industry. ‘Hit me on the hips’ is the term coined by a local NGO when referring to the practice of teenage girls being used to provide sexual service to tourists. The term hit me on the hips refers to the method of communication: a vibrating phone used to communicate during school hours.

In 2004, that same NGO, Youth Enhancement Services (YES) launched a public campaign against sexual exploitation. Director of YES, Karen Cain, explained that it was a direct response to the hundreds of young girls who were victims to exploitation that they had already been exposed to.

Karen Cain, Director, Youth Enhancement Services
“For too long there has been some time of attitude that it's okay sometimes even among the young people themselves because they are not aware of the dangers of CSEC. They’re saying it’s older to have sex with an older man. It’s not a crime.”

In 2007, a study gathering baseline data on the knowledge and attitude of sexual exploitation was conducted with a representative sample of over two hundred teenagers between the ages of thirteen to nineteen. The study demonstrated that the majority of young people do not recognize this as a form of exploitation. Even more alarming was the lack of recognition of the risks associated with their involvement in sexual exploitation, not even the dangers of contracting STDs.

Ava Pennil
“You have a very young person and usually the exploiter is an older person and a person in position of authority or assumed authority. And you have a young teenage person with very little negotiation skills just learning what it is to be an adult just in training to be an adult so their negotiation skills are just developing. So when they get in this encounter they cannot negotiate; it would be extremely difficult for them to negotiate safe sex.”

Karen Cain
“Some of the attitudes from the older people especially the exploiters themselves is that ‘we are on a different bandwagon and the young girls come to them’. I think they as the adult should have some kind of restrain and realize that they are also the exploiters and they should know better.”

Marleni Cuellar
“The current approach sought by the relevant partners encompasses advocacy for legislative changes; which include the incorporation of laws that will allow for the protection of boys from sexual exploitation and the revision of other archaic portions of the law.”

There is also an intervention process that is facilitated through the department of human services while the public awareness campaign continues with a sharper focus.

Ava Pennil
“We work along with the family because we realize that when one child has been exploited then the chances of the second child being exploited is easier because you’ve gone through the first child already. The first time is usually the hardest. So when you meet a family like that all the children are at risk boys and girls.”

Karen Cain
“The preliminary message or like the slogan is that “My future is not for sale” and it’s basically to get them on board to understand what is sexual exploitation because somehow there still seems to be some grey areas of what it is and what it should be and what it’s not.”

Reporting for News Five Belize, I am Marleni Cuellar.
Ch 7:

Aids Commission Holds Evaluation and Monitoring Workshop
posted (February 24, 2010)

Representatives from 30 non governmental, community and faith based organizations working in HIV and Aids today completed a three day training workshop on project evaluation and monitoring. It is being sponsored by the National Aids Commission along with the Caribbean Health and Research Council. The facilitator is Dr. Ansari Ameen from the Caribbean Health and Research Council and he told us what it was all about.

Dr. Ansari Ameen, Facilitator
“We need to make sure that whatever resources, accountability that whatever resources are being provided by donors or national governments or so forth, people want to know that their funds are well spent and that they are being used in an efficient manner. So monitoring and evaluation lets people look at the results of the project to see if they’ve made a difference. The monitoring aspect will allow them to look at the efficiency of the project; are you implementing things on schedule; are the resources being well used, as well as when you do your monitoring you look at the quality of what you are doing.

One of the things we are doing differently is that in the past I think a lot of times people do training, they come and do a training and leave and what are we doing this afternoon for example is working with the organizations to identify what are the follow up needs. So we will work hand in hand with HIV/Aids Commission here to provide follow up to these organizations to make sure that they actually start applying the concepts they have learned and we will identify some of their specific technical assistance needs. So we are hoping to not just be another talk shop. We will follow up and provide ongoing support.

When they leave here, they’ll have a fundamental understanding of what is monitoring and evaluation, why it is important, and all the basic concepts related to it.”

Dr. Ameen says this is only phase one and there will be follow-up workshops.
Ch 7:

Help with H1N1

H1N1 may have faded from the headlines, but it’s still an issue on the health frontlines. And to that end, the Ministry of Health yesterday received a grant from the World Bank valued at half a million US dollars for an Avian and Human Influenza Detection and Response Project. The funds will be used to prepare for the possibility of a potential H1N1 outbreak by expanding current influenza surveillance activities.

Signing on behalf of the World Bank was Carmen Carpio and for the Ministry of Finance was Financial Secretary Joe Waight, who was quite frank in saying, forget about the H1N1, just show me the money!

Carmen Carpio, World Bank
"We have a grant in place. It’s slightly above US$500,000. It's for H1N1 preparedness, detection and response. Basically, our grant gives us the opportunity to work with the Ministry of Health on two fronts -- on the detection front, which will allow us to train health workers to strengthen the surveillance capacity of the country, and also on the response effort, in being able to to procure the necessary equipment and being able to have the facilities, the procurement as well of equipment, to do the response activities."

Joe Waight, Financial Secretary
"At our end, we pledge to make good use of the funds, to abide by the criteria. But more importantly, we'll use this to prime the pump, to trigger more money coming in later on from the World Bank and others. Of course, we have to look at other dimensions of the problem. We have to manage our affairs properly, especially our public financial management, to ensure that the limited resources we have are properly placed and the additional resources that we are getting from the bank are well used at the same time. So our pledge here is to use the money wisely, to use it properly, on time, with the hope that there will be a Stage II and Stage III to come."

It is expected that Belize will complete the execution of the Avian and Human Influenza Detection and Response Project by June 2011. No word on when the rest of the money Waight spoke about will start rolling.

Today, December 1st marks World Aids Day and National AIDS Commission held a campaign to encourage behavioral change among young people. The Commission targeted the 15-24 year old age group because statistics show this sub-group has the highest incidents of HIV Infection, almost twice as much as the general population. Eleven schools across the city gathered at the bliss today where they were sensitized through dramatic presentations and pep talks. Dr. Cuellar, Executive Director of The National Aids Commission told us more:
Dr. Martin Cuellar, Executive Director of The National Aids Commission
"What we are doing is we are using behavior change methodologies because we want to make sure that we increases the chances that the young people who are coming to the rallies can actually take away something specific that will assist in proving their own self protection and so the rallies are design to include interactive activities, poems, different form of artistic expressions and for them hearing from peers and other young people like themselves with messages that we are giving in a way to make them more poignant, the idea is that by the end of each of the rallies, all of the young people will take an actual pledge to commit to increasing their own personal protection."

Andrea Polanco
"So you have a particular message that you are sending out here today?"

Dr. Martin Cuellar, Executive Director of The National Aids Commission
"Yes and the message we are sending today is that we want young people to think more positively about sex because we are convince that where they think more positively then they will develop a more positive attitude and that translate to much more protection, and the second message that we are sending is we are asking young people to make sure that they develop a specific personal plan for protecting themselves against sexually transmitted infections and today here and all the rallies we are stressing that there are several ways that young people can develop this plan, it can include consistent and proper condom usage but it can certainly include abstinence or delay sexual initiation as well as serial monogamy."

The rally was designed a part of a long-term series of activities to reach out to young people across the country. The Commission says that a documentary put together from all the rallies held country wide today will be released and used in the 2011 campaign.
HIV Infections Down

The National HIV Report for 2010 has been released and it shows a decrease in the number of reported infections for the second year in a row.
There was a 33.8% reduction in new infections for 2010 - making it the first time since the year 2000 that there are fewer than 250 new infections reported in a single year.

Of that 244 new infections for 2010 the key age groups most affected remain those between 20-49 years of age with the highest number of infections seen in those between 25 and 29 years old.

And Stann Creek no longer holds the dubious distinction of the greatest number of new infections; Belize and Cayo are now numbers one and two, respectively.

As for the cases of full blown AIDS, there were 81 with the greatest number of cases again falling within that key age group: those between 25 and 29.

In 2010, 106 deaths were linked to HIV and AIDS; 74 of them were men - a third of them from the Belize district.