AIDS in Belize

Belize HIV/AIDS infection rate down 33%

Belize has shown a 33 per cent decrease in the number of new HIV/AIDS infections, and the mother-to-child transmission rate is presently less than six per cent even; though Belize has the highest prevalence rate of HlV in Central America and one of the highest in the Caribbean, Minister of Health, Hon. Pablo Marin informed a high level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last Wednesday to Friday, June 8-10
The central purpose of the meeting was to review the progress achieved on the 2006 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS. Provisions were also made to guide and intensify the global response to HIV and AIDS by promoting continued political commitment and engaging leaders to respond at community, local, national, regional and international levels to halt and reverse the HIV epidemic and mitigate its impact.
Marin said the Government of Belize has scaled up its treatment plans to meet complete universal access by 2015. The government is now able to cover about 70 percent of those requiring care.
UN member states pledged to increase global treatment, care, and support, implement various new and innovative preventative approaches, and continue to advance human rights, reduce stigma, discrimination and violence. The meeting closed with participants committed to move forward by redoubling efforts to achieve by 2015, all the Millennium Development Goals by providing universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support with the goal to ending the global HIV epidemic.
It was noted in the meeting that despite substantial progress over three decades since AIDS was first reported, the HIV epidemic remains an unprecedented human catastrophe inflicting immense suffering on countries, communities and families throughout the world. At present, more than 30 million people have died from AIDS, with another estimated 33 million people living with HIV and more than 16 million children orphaned because of AIDS. Furthermore, more than 7,000 new HIV infections occur daily, mostly among people in low and middle-income countries
The participants at the meeting recognized that HIV and AIDS constitute a global emergency and pose one of the most formidable challenges to the development, progress and stability of respective societies and the world at large.
Funding to fight the global HIV epidemic has increased eightfold from $1.8 billion in 2001 to $16 billion in 20l0, as a result of the worldwide commitment since the 2001 Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS and the 2006 Political on HIV/AIDS. This represents the largest amount dedicated to combating a single disease in history, but despite such extraordinary efforts, global funding devoted to HIV and AIDS response still does not measure up to the magnitude of the epidemic either at the national or international level.
The global financial and economic crises continues to have a negative impact on the anti-AIDS response at all levels, including the fact that for the first time, international assistance did not increase from 2008 - 2009 levels.
Health Minister Pablo Marin and Special Envoy to Belize for Women and Children, Mrs. Kim Simpliss-Barrow led the seven-member delegation which represented Belize at the meeting.
Regional HIV Testing Day


Regional HIV testing day was observed today throughout the Caribbean.
Belize joined in for the first time in an effort to increase the awareness of HIV status and in so doing, lower infection rates. So HIV Testing and Counseling were conducted in the four most affected districts: Orange Walk, Belize, Cayo and Stann Creek. We visited the site in Belize City - and here's what we found out:..

Elio Cabanas, Organizer
"This is one of our testing sites across the country. We are also conducting similar testing activities in Orange Walk, San Ignacio and Dangriga. Her in Belize we have the involvement of the Ministry of Health actually conducting the testing. This is part of a regional effort for regional HIV testing day and we are partnering locally with Scotia Bank who is the main sponsor of this event as well as the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the National AIDS secretariat and the Ministry of Health."

"This is very important, as you know testing is very important in prevention and treatment efforts, so this is an opportunity to get people out here and to appreciate the importance of getting tested and accept it as something that is necessary and healthy process like any other check-up. That the point of this coordinated media campaign that we are engaged in today."

The day is sponsored by the Caribbean Broadcast Media Partnership on HIV/AIDS, Scotiabank and Pan Caribbean Partnership on HIV/AIDS (PANCAP).
A Regional Approach to HIV

Since Wednesday, the regional outreach organization, PAN Caribbeans Partnerships Against HIV & AIDS (PANCAP), has been in Belize for its 2012 annual general meeting at the Biltmore Plaza hotel.
PANCAP is an organization with multinational membership that has been operating since 2001 to try to get the HIV/AIDS epidemic under control in this region.

Today, representatives of the organization gave the media a briefing about the topics they discussed in the AGM for the past 3 days.

Here's what they told us:

Volderine Hackett - Head, Strategic Information and Communication, PANCAP Coordinating Unit
"PANCAP is really the regional mechanism that was established by CARICOM heads of governments to respond to the HIV/Aids epidemic in the Caribbean. PANCAP was established on February 14, 2001 because the situation in the Caribbean was bad. We were having a number of deaths etc., and so we had to have a dedicated response to the deal with the epidemic. PANCAP is really a combination of governments, UN agencies, regional institutions, civil society, and regional networks of persons living with HIV and AIDS. And they have all come together under one strategic framework to design and implement programs that would respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In the governance structure of PANCAP, the annual general meeting is the highest decision making forum. That is where all our partners would come together to assess our progress that has been made from the year before, to see what the gaps are, and to see what are those specific decisions that have to be taken to take us forward. It's essentially about sharing the progress that we have made, and deciding how we are going forward. This year's theme was 'PANCAP: Forging New Paths'. The whole issue of stigma and discrimination, and how it's impeding the Caribbean's response, issues relating to the funding situation, as you may aware of, the global economic crisis that has had an impact on the partnership. There is less funding to implement programs and so on, and so those are some of the issues that we have been dealing with, and as to what are the decisions that we have to make to go forward in spite of this crisis, and that our Caribbean is protected from the negative impacts of the HIV and AIDs epidemic."

The AGM was chaired by the Jamaican Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Kevin Fenton Ferguson. Belizean Minister of Health, Hon. Pablo Marin, addressed the gathering on Wednesday.
Woman With HIV Says Doctors Discriminated
posted (December 11, 2012)

And while they are many organizations which advocate for those living with HIV and AIDS, those living with the disease are still frequently subjected to stigma and discrimination.
Today with met Adi Mai - who is HIV positive and was first diagnosed in 2009.

In February of this year, Mai found out she was pregnant and fearing that her baby would be born HIV positive - she requested a C-Section.

But the surgery was refused - instead she was told that C-Sections are only done in Belize on high risk pregnancy patients. Mai felt that her particular medical needs as a pregnant HIV positive person were not taken into account. She did manage to get her surgery done in El Salvador. Here's her story.

Adi Mai - HIV positive
"First of all it was this year on February they gave me the news that I was pregnant - I wasn't expecting it but well it came and during the 4 months it was difficult for me because I was vomiting, I couldn't eat and drinking my medications as a HIV person was difficult and I was afraid that probably the baby won't take the medication that I was drinking. During that course since I began working with this organization REDCA from El Salvador and see it here in Belize I learn a lot about mother to child transmission even though I was drinking my medication I was afraid and so I began asking for a C-section to be done both on the part that I was afraid for my baby to come out positive and the other one was the overall issue that HIV mothers should not have babies. I ask for that and they say that I had to have difficulties in order for the C-section to be done o me. This organization REDCA offered me the C-section in El Salvador and I thought it was a great opportunity to prevent any transmission to my baby, so I accepted it and I had my baby in El Salvador."

"Here in Belize I went to my nurse and ask for a C-section, I went to the gynecologist and they told me they would perform the C-section only if I had any complications - that's was the only reason the C-section would have been done to me and even the doctor told me that that would be the reason if I had a C-section. I tried and I struggle for it and thank God and the organization I was offered there. Having it in El Salvador was a nice experience overall and it had it contrary like I said because being alone there giving birth and a C-section it was difficult for me, but C-Net gave me that support by sending me my companion, he went there to help me during the process and everything went fine. I was glad and happy when in El Salvador they gave me their viral load results for the baby that came out undetectable. That made me very happy and they even did a viral load to me, something that I haven't done here in Belize at all. Basically that was the experience I had through just this year. I am just getting over it. Right now my baby is 3 months. When I came back to Belize they did tests to him also - they have done 3 test; one test has come out negative but I have in mind that everything was find because they did all the tests in El Salvador."

"I don't know if I was discriminated or what but the fact that they didn't gave me the C-section that I ask for - I think that we as persons living with HIV being females and wanted to be mothers - I think they supposed to give us the C-section to prevent any chances at all because the risk that I have was that for 4 months I was bedridden, I couldn't eat, I was vomiting and I even had diarrhea and that made me think that probably the baby didn't get the medication that I was drinking."

Mai delivered a healthy baby - who is now 3 months old and HIV negative.
Sexual Health Campaign Awareness Campaign For Youth

Today, the National Committee for Families and Children and the United Nations Development Programme launched a Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health Mass Media Campaign.
It's built around two themes; the first is for young girls aged 11-14, and it's called "Wait and noh Worry" and it emphasizes the need to delay sexual activity. The other them is for those 18 to 24 year olds and it's called: and "Choose and Use". It emphasizes consistent condom usage and monogamy amongst sexually active youths.

Both were launched today, and we wondered, with one stressing abstinence and the other encouraging safe sex, could there be some mixed messages:

Martin Cuellar - Executive Director, National AIDS Secretariat
"The first campaign is targeting one particular group of - that we identify as being particular vunerable and that is young girls who are pre-sexual activity, between 11 and 13 years of age. The other group is completely separate, and that campaign is also separate. Now hat second campaign is targeting young people who are more adults, those between 18 and above. So, they are indeed 2 different messages, but they're targeting 2 different groups within the Belizean population. The way that we anticipate that they will be used will reduce the chances of any kind of confusion between the 2 messages."

Jules Vasquez
"Perhaps a naive person will say, but you don't need to target 11 year old girls with a message about - with a sexualize message, it's too early. How do you respond to that?"

Martin Cuellar
"Actually the statistics that we have - and we try to ensure that all of our messaging is evidence based - the statistics that we have from the Ministry of Health in - not from the HIV statistic but the statistics from sexual and reproductive health, indicates that we have a terrible problem in Belize right now with teenage pregnancies, unwanted abortions, with other complications of teenage pregnancies. The actual teenage mothers are birthing at teenage years. So this tells us that we have a very sexually active adolescent population; that's one. But we also have high incidences or early sexual initiation, and that's where we have the horror stories that sometimes come out on the news of sexual abuse. Sometimes, it's actually consenting in the mind of the child. We realize the importance of starting the message earlier, but the message that we want to start earlier is not a sexualize message. It's not a message for example; promoting condom use. It's not a message promoting sexual activity in any way shape or form, but it's a message that on the contrary reflects the innocence, the youth, the celebration of life for the young girl."

The media campaign is part of a year of prevention, which is the focus for HIV Awareness in 2013. It's also in line with one of the targets under Millennium Development Goals to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015.
Talking HIV Issues

The National Aids Commission is holding its first National HIV Prevention Summit over the next 3 days. The summit starts tomorrow and Executive Director of the National Aids Commission Doctor Martin Cuellar says that they will be looking at what Belize has been doing in HIV prevention:
Martin Cuellar, Director of the National Aids Commission
"It is a chance for us to kind of regroup as a national response to HIV. We are bringing in partners from all over country who work in HIV but in particular in prevention both from the side of people who collect data, who create statistics that help us to see where our prevention gaps, where are the highest areas of risk. As well as those who then respond to those risks with interventions and the idea that is driving this initiative is that in 2013 Belize has to look at what we have been doing? Where do we see successes? Where do we see the larger loop holes? Then consienciously get together to come up with a new plan so that in the next two or three years we know that we are doing a better job, we know that we are being more relevant, more specific, responding in a more successful way to the specific gaps that we identify and then we expect that we will start to see the overall impact which we're looking for, which is, reduction in the number of new cases as well as extension of life and quality of life for those who are already affected."

Monica Bodden
"Could you speak to us about the importance of that."

Martin Cuellar
"Exactly, what we find is that there are many indicators of success over the past five, seven years equally there are many indicators that a lot of what we have done has not taken us to the place we want to be. We look at evidence that such as the number of condom use, nationally, in all of our sub populations still hovers around thirty percent. We're talking about thirty percent consistent condom use among youth, among heterosexual couples, among men who have sex with men, among even people who are living with HIV already so we have been spending thousands of dollars over the past five years promoting comdom use and still we are seeing that low average. That is one good indicator of why it is so important that we start rethinking prevention and scaling up our efforts which does not mean doing more of the same but it means finding new methodologies and new mechanisms for us to get into the specific sub populations that we are targeting so that we have a better chance for actual behaviour change."

The National HIV Prevention Summit will be taking place at the Belize Biltmore Plaza. It starts tomorrow and ends on Saturday.
Walking For HIV


Today Belize joined in with more than 115 countries worldwide to celebrate the second annual Solidarity Day for Persons Living with HIV. The memorial commenced with a solidarity walk through the city streets and ended with a commemorative ceremony. With approximately 33 million persons living with HIV worldwide, and more than five thousand in Belize, organizers of today?s event hope that it will continue to break down barriers in Belize by giving a face to HIV and courage to those living with it.

Eric Castellanos - Executive Director, C-NET
"Today we are celebrating our 2nd annual solidarity day with persons living with HIV. Last year we had a celebration but we didn't have a march, this is the first time we are having a march. It's a day where we commemorate the lives of our loved ones - all those persons that have died due to HIV, our partners and relatives. It's not in a sad way, it's a celebrating way because we are honoring their lives - taking into consideration that they might not have the resources that we have right now. So we're in a very lucky position and because of their sacrifice and what they went through is because we are where we are right now and have the benefit of better medication and better services. This is a regional initiative - it started in El Salvador, which was the first country that observed it. In fact in El Salvador the legislation has declared it a national day so all the schools and everywhere observe it as a national solidarity day with persons living with HIV. It's very critical because it's a moment where people who are not HIV can show their solidarity and support. This is a very good initiative and a very good way to support persons who are not positive can come in solidarity with persons living with HIV to reduce stigma and discrimination.

I also like to inform you that today we're launching our Demystifying HIV Campaign. I think a few months ago we spoke about the Stigma project so today we're launching it so if you have time to go by our office you will see the actual images there where we have the photos of Belizeans living with HIV, sharing their stories and their images for everybody to see. I think it's a very important thing, it's a first time that people living with HIV from Belize are moving away from that fear and being proud and living their lives positively and sharing with other Belizeans in order for other Belizeans to sensitize and create consciousness and also contribute to less infections in the country."
Fifth Annual Regional HIV Testing Day

Today was the fifth anniversary of the annual Regional HIV Testing Day, and the Ministry of Health had a booth set up in the Scotia Bank Parking Lot in downtown Belize City.
7News dropped by and we found out that this year?s testing day was made possible with collaboration between Scotiabank Belize, The Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the National AIDS Commission.

Today, Chairperson of the commission told us why it is important for every member of the public to know their AIDS status.

Kathy Esquivel - Chairlady, National AIDS Commission

"It's happening throughout the Caribbean, it's co-sponsored by Scotia Bank and that's very important. They offered their facilities and they also help with organization and getting people to come out. It's a regional testing day - why testing is important because everybody needs to know their status and take responsibility for their status. So whether you test positive or negative, it's very important."

Marvin Manzanero - Director, HIV Program Ministry of Health

"The Ministry of Health is tagging along with the business community Caribbean wide and almost country wide in promoting the 'regional HIV testing day - it's simply another opportunity to bring HIV in the limelight, given the importance it has, particularly as we are tying up the 2012 data that has something that needs to be further discussed so opportunity is what we are here to do. Basically it's an education session because not everybody coming in is getting a test - some people still have some questions and reference for HIV. There will be prevention strategies, people that are requiring condoms and other information that is going to be provided at no cost."

Pat Andrews - Representative, Scotia Bank
"Our bank has been for the past few years very involved in definitely supporting HIV testing so we decided to join hands with them again this year and if everything works out well - I think we'll continue doing because we do see the need for it."

"As a corporate citizen, why did you think it's important for the general public to be involved with something like that."

Pat Andrews
"Well you know we we are a part of this community here an we believe where we work and where we live - we should be part of that community."

The Ministry of Health reports that a total of 830 tests were done countrywide, surpassing their target of 500.
Increasing HIV Awareness
posted (June 27, 2014)


Today, the National AIDS Commission took its mission downtown; they offered free and rapid HIV tests to the public in the open air.
The organizers invited the media to stop by to reinforce their message on why it's important to know your status:

Arthur Usher, Communication Officer - NAC
"Today is the regional testing day which is a regional initiative done by Scotia Bank and the Caribbean Broadcasting for HIV. Belize's effort, we are coordinating with the National Aids Commission and Ministry of Health, PASMO as well as Scotia Bank obviously. What we are doing is we are promoting HIV test. We are telling everybody to come out, get your test, its free, it's a rapid test. It's basically 15 minutes in and out from the onset on filling out the forms to getting the test to getting the results - its about 15 minutes. Again it's always good to know your status. People like say that they don't want to know. The point of the matter is it's important to know and not to know. Belize's stats are that we are still pretty high; Belize District, then San Ignacio and Dangriga in the country. We have a very high prevalence rate for our region of 1.4 and right now in terms of stats, women are getting tested more than men, at least 2 times as much which is partially due to the fact that when they get pregnant they go in for the testing, but generally women have a better attitude about going out to getting tested and getting their health check."

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, & Malaria has given Belize an A-1 rating in the fight against AIDS.
I wish it scare away the pedophiles who are thinking of going to Belize and abuse young children.
Regional HIV Testing Day


Today is Regional HIV Testing Day and testing booths were set up behind the Scotia Bank to commemorate this day. Now, there are a number of commercials and a series of awareness campaigns geared towards educating the public on HIV. But is it working? Is the message being effectively communicated? According to the National Aids Commission, it is. Today the Communications and Program Officer, Arthur Usher discussed the progress so far and other approaches used to encourage people – especially men - to get tested.

Arthur Usher

"This is a major part of what helps people to understand the importance. We do multiple variation of out reaches, it's ongoing throughout the year. Big events like this are usually for us is twice a year which is June and world aids day. The organisation like BFLA and PASMO and ministry of health and all these organisations - they're consistently educating people and consistently out reaching. So it's throughout the year and the impact has been felt. What we are doing is called bring a man campaign. The person who bring the most men gets a gift at the end of the day. And for the first 25 men this morning got a official regional testing day mug. So again that's something to kind of change the mentality and work with people to get prizes. We also have 2 social medial competitions that we're doing. We have a selfie competition and 30 to 60 second video competition. And you can just take a selfie with a little caption and upload it to our facebook. You could win up to 500 dollars for first price and 250 for second prize."

Lincoln Kelly - Knows his status

"I think it very important for men get tested because what we notice that it's mostly women come out and take tests. We think it's very important for the guys because the guys are at a very high risk. The only way we could know is by people coming out and taking the test so we could better address the situation so it doesn't get out of control."

While HIV was the main focus of today’s activities, what about other sexually transmitted diseases? Well, according to the Program Supervisor of PASMO Belize – these diseases are very much linked to HIV and must be addressed.

Keron Cacho - Program Supervisor, PASMO Belize

"I think it’s very important we always keep the population of our country aware basically of all the sexual transmitter infections that are out there. Because even though it's overshadowed by exactly the amount of HIV infections, they're still very much prevalent. STI's like herpes and gonorrhoea is very prevalent. A lot of people put a lot of attention in regards to HIV infection, however the STI's - like for instance an individual would go to the doctor and say they want an HIV test and they feel quite happy when they get negative results. But at the end they could also be suffering from stuff like gonorrhoea and not treating that. And if you have an untreated infection, a STI, it can actually lead or it could be much more easier for you to actually contract HIV eventually."

"We have tried our best over the years to do a lot of investigations to see exactly how we can spread the message across. So we've utilised a lot of I think very fun and colourful promotional items. T-shirts that would have special messages that bring about awareness. Again, not only for HIV for STI's. We also try to get promotional items that can at the same time be utilised as an item but spread the right messages across. We have a variety of condoms here, we have condoms for oral and also penetrative sex and we are also displaying the lubricants. There are a lot of myths with the use of lubricants. It's very important when you are talking about sexual transmitter infections and proper protection against HIV and some of the STI’s.”

A 6 week nationwide HIV testing campaign was also done before today’s event. Similar activities were also organised in Orange Walk.
Today at the ITVET in Belize City, the data of the 2014 survey on Knowledge, Attitudes and Sexual Behavior and HIV in Belize was officially released. The survey was sanctioned by the National Aids Commission in anticipation of the 2014 HIV/AIDS Report. A total of two thousand eight hundred households were selected across the country at random and young persons were surveyed on their sexual behavior. Duane Moody looks at the KAP report.

Duane Moody, Reporting
The 2013 report on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the country showed that over a three-year period, the number of new cases of the virus had remained constant. Two hundred and forty-one new cases were reported overall and there are more men than women affected with the disease. But while the figures for the 2014 report are pending, there are indications that the number of new cases of HIV/AIDS is stable. Many factors influence the numbers and to get an understanding of local demography, the National AIDS Commission sanctioned a survey on the Knowledge, Attitudes and Sexual Behavior and HIV in Belize.

Gustavo Perera, Executive Director, NAC
“The KAP report is done…one, it helps the national response to keep track of its progress in key areas. Two, it is part of our global reporting system because we have to report these indicators to the global UN-AIDS mechanism so that when they consolidate the data from countries around the world, that’s how they get the global picture. But nationally, we do it to track the progress in our response.”

The survey, which was funded through the Global Fund of the United Nations Development Programme, was carried out by the Statistical Institute of Belize. And the results were damning. The survey targeted primarily the youth between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four. Of the sample population, sixty-one point two percent have had sexual intercourse; majority of them were out of school. Nine percent of the youth population, however, had their first sexual encounter before the age of fifteen.

Jacqueline Smalls, Demographer, SIB
“Young people, especially the ones under twenty, they are having sex. And we also recognize that there are a significant number of young people who are starting to have sex before the age of fifteen. So as it relates to those persons and reproductive health services being made available to them, we recognize immediately that there is an issue because there is a conflict with what the law allows and what is actually happening in reality. We are seeing that just about one tenth of the persons were sexually active reported that they actually started before they got to fifteen years old. So it is a significant number.”

But are the youths aware of sexual diseases plaguing the society and the preventative methods or even best practices? Demographer, Jacqueline Smalls, says yes because the results show that ninety-six percent of the fifteen to forty-nine year old population has heard of HIV/AIDS. But there is need for more education and awareness…and from an earlier age.

Jacqueline Smalls
“Yes there is more work to be done, but I think it is encouraging that our young people are using a condom at the first sexual encounter which means that they are listening, they are learning and there has been some behavior change. So investments have been made to effect young people’s behavior. We might not have been getting all the positive results that we had anticipated, but things are happening. It is not just for us to continue step up the programs, expand the service to areas where perhaps there wasn’t an apparent need for focus. Only three-fifth of the youths reported having used a condom the first time so that’s good, but it shows that only one half of the youths who had had sex with more than one partner during the last twelve months had actually used a condom. And we know that multiple sex partners is one of the high risk behavior. And while we are seeing that some of them are aware and they are using, we cannot afford to have this gap in this area in particular because as you said, this is where a lot of the risk comes in. So we really need to turn up the awareness campaign on this particular issue.”

Garifuna youth, followed by the Creoles, are more engaged in sexual intercourse and at an earlier age. The lack of education makes them more susceptible to contracting the deadly virus. These trends support the HIV/AIDS report of 2013 that indicated that primarily in the south, there are more HIV/AIDS cases. So what are the implications of the survey?

Gustavo Perera
“Because there is very early sexual debut, sixteen point four years in the case of fifteen to nineteen year olds, it is a little bit lower, it means that there will have to be stepped up efforts for education. Perhaps in partnership with parents and schools because I believe there has to be some common ground in terms of the approach to sexual education among young people because the reality is that young people, even before ten may be exposed to sexual education through the internet, social media, through television. And so that is something that needs to be looked at. In terms of safe sexual practices, I think that certainly, there is the need for a national condom program. The key issues are first the availability and the affordability because we need to establish that in the areas where there is not high usage of condoms it doesn’t mean that it is because of a tendency towards unsafe sexual practices but more issues of economics…can people afford condoms. So we need to establish those.”
BELIZE CITY, Wed. Apr. 27, 2016–For the first time in at least 4 years, HIV-related deaths in Belize have hit a triple-digit high, with 110 such deaths reported for 2015, according to a report recently released by the Ministry of Health. By comparison, 119 lives were claimed in Belize due to murder that same year, and just as murder strikes at the heart of Belize’s productive male population, so too does HIV. Health authorities hope, though, that more men could be engaged in early testing and treatment to reduce the incidences of death from the virus.

Director of Health Services, Dr. Marvin Manzanero, told Amandala that the ministry hopes to be able to engage more men in prevention and treatment initiatives and find more creative ways of reaching them after traditional work hours, perhaps meeting them at recreation spots.

Manzanero also underscored the need for early detection. He said that people are showing up with the virus in later stages of infection, which makes it hard to battle.

Manzanero confirmed that Belize continues to have the highest HIV prevalence rate in Central America, at around 1.4% of the adult population living with HIV, with Panama behind. The other Central American countries report an HIV prevalence rate of less than 1%.

According to the new HIV report, while there were 239 new HIV infections reported in 2015, almost 79 persons already had an established HIV infection. The majority of persons who tested positive were put on anti-retroviral treatment, but some of those persons have also died.

“The ultimate goal of the HIV program is to have the entire population of HIV-infected persons on anti-retroviral therapy and virally suppressed as a means of reducing morbidity and mortality, as well as a secondary prevention strategy,” the report said.

The gender gap in testing and treatment is evident in the statistics. Although women got tested twice as many times as men did, most of the HIV cases were showing up in the male population and twice as many men died from HIV-related causes as the women who did.
Making HIV Relevant To Women and Children

Today, the National AIDS Commission, the Belize Family Life Association, the Ministry of Health and the Special Envoy for Women and Children teamed up for a health fair.
The event was themed "The Best Defence is a Good Offense", and ti was timed to commemorate today's importance as the National Women and Girls HIV Awareness Day.

We stopped by and spoke with a representative from the NAC:

Arthur Usher - Communications/Programs OFC. NAC
"We are celebrating World Kidney Day as well as International Women's and Girls HIV Awareness Day. It's a collaborative effort between the kidney association and national aids commission, Ministry of Health and BFLA and also the special Envoy for Women and Children. So, what we are doing today is providing information as well as free testing in all these areas. Its open to the general public as well as youth, girls, women and anybody can come in and get the test. We do have blood pressure checks, we have kidney checks, we have HIV testing and with all this, we do have all the information, the follow up, the pre and posttest and whatever else information they may need. So each organization has their own booth and their own information sharing."

"For the most part, women and girls have better health seeking behaviors than men and boys. I think that is something cultural. We are working statistically, the information and the sharing of that information and the knowledge has grown. We are hoping that it translates to better health seeking behavior. Generally what you are seeing is a cultural fair or cultural issue in terms of maybe distrust with a system, they might not feel that the persons within the health system might hold their information to their confidentiality. I think that beside that, men tend to want to until the last minute to get any kind of health seeking behavior and for the most part that is a bad habit. Any physician, anyone would tell you, the earlier you get diagnosed, the quicker we can move on the fixing it. So, I think waiting too long is part of the culture and the idea that we don't need to go to the doctor or we are men and we are strong so we don't need that. That cultural dynamic hinders us from seeking help in general so it think, if we get information and the knowledge together and we say look it's something that we need to do to keep your strength, to be a man, be who you are supposed to be, you need to keep healthy."

The Health fair went until 2:00 in the afternoon.

Today, over 20 countries throughout the region celebrated the 10th Annual Regional HIV and AIDS Testing Day. The event promotes HIV/AIDS status awareness, and aims to eliminate the stigma around getting tested. This year the National AIDS Commission opened up testing sites in 8 different locations throughout the country to attract and test as many people as possible. We spoke with the Arthur Usher, the Communication and Programs Officer at the AIDS Commission about the importance of the event...

The National AIDS Commission and the Ministry of Health are working along with international partners such as UNAIDS to end ending AIDS by 2030.
Youth Forum On HIV

"HIV, Youth, and the Future" is the name of the first youth research forum on HIV and it was held today with students from the high school and university level. The goal of the forum was to educate the students so that they could be a part of creating a national program for HIV and AIDS that speaks directly to young people. Arthur Usher from the National Aids Commission told us more.
Arthur Usher, National Aids Commission Communications and Programs Officer
"We actually sent invitations to various schools and youth organizations to invite our young people to come and youth leader to come actually and give us feedback of the information as to what they think can alleviate the issue of HIV within the youth population so we are hoping to get some idea from them as to what type of programming we can do next year that can directly impact and alleviate the issue of HIV and young people in this country."

"We are doing presentations and giving them the data. At the end of the day, that data will feed into their programmatic development."

"So with the data and them being creative we can find some gap some common ground that we can work with."

Sahar Vasquez, reporter
"So how do the statistics look for young people having AIDS and HIV in Belize right now?"

Arthur Usher
"Presently we are at the age range of 20 -24 as one of the highest burden areas for the population. Our three main burden areas are Belize District, Cayo District, and the Stann Creek District."

The forum was organized by the National Aids Commission in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program. They are working towards making it an annual event.
HIV In Colour On Canvas

The National Aids Commission today hosted a ceremony to thank their partners for contributing to National test day on June 29th. It was a successful test day with about 1700 persons coming out to be tested, including a fair number of men. So this morning at the Inspiration Center, the commission gifted 6 of their partners with paintings created by some talented youth. Here's more:
Enrique Romero, Executive Director, National Aids Commission
"The public - private partnership is very important if we are going to fill gaps in financing left by the withdrawal of Scotia banks partnership. So the event this morning is to show our appreciation to the entities that made National Testing Day a success. I am glad to report that our presentation of some of the art work to the business, we have two new business who stepped up to the plate and came onboard and made our National Testing Day an success and that is the and that is the BNE Charitable Trust fund and Atlantic Bank Limited."

"We worked with our young artists in Belize and we had them paint HIV related paintings and so what we are doing is we are gifting these paintings to our partners who contributed to making the national testing day a success."

"In terms of statistics, looking at the testing day, how many people came out on testing day to get tested?"

Enrique Romero
"Right, our target was roughly between 1200 to 1400 persons in the end we tested over 1700 persons. That we can attribute to the great public- private cooperation we had. We had entities like Digicell who had phone cards so we were able to provide, yes, as an incentive for people to get tested."

Up to 2017, there are 4,500 persons confirmed to be living with HIV and AIDS in Belize.