Belize remains high on the list of countries in the western hemisphere with a high rate of HIV infection.
And one community that's been greatly affected is the popular tourist destination of San Pedro.
In April of this year, community activists from the San Pedro Aids commission held a free rapid testing for HIV.
Today, the islands top medical officer, Dr. Javier Zuniga, head of the San Pedro polyclinic made some striking disclosures to the media about a dramatic spike in the numbers of HIV positive cases on the island.
But Zuniga's comments have landed him in some hot water as some top level officials have apparently asked him to tone down his take on the reason or reasons for the recent surge in HIV cases on the island of San Pedro. But, was he being an alarmist, and maybe speaking out of turn? National Aids Commission Director, Dr. Martin Cuellar says to some extent he was:
Dr. Martin Cuellar, Executive Director, National AIDS Commission
"First of all I think it is only important and fair to Dr. Zuniga and to the rest of the national response that we reiterate that his comments were made base on total observation. The ministry of health has the surveillance unit which prepares all of the official statistics on HIV using the Belize health information database. Being the primary care provider on the island his observation is that over the past 6 months and we just had a conversation with him this afternoon to confirm he has observe that more people are coming in to get tested and are actually testing positive and so its base on this observation that he made the original comment. The doctor can share that he is concern about what he sees as a possible increase in incidents. It is important to recognize the full statement that he was not just concern about an increase in any sub-population but across the board and in that same light it is important for residents in San Pedro to become aware and to reflect on their own lives and to ask themselves and do a re-assessment of the risk level of their sexual behavior. As you know San Pedro is a unique social experiment if you will; it is the only place in the country that has a large amount of national migration. When you go to San Pedro you will realize that you have people living there from all the other districts as well as foreigners and then there is an extremely large amount of tourists that flow in and out given the population there. This is what is consider one of the primary situations that can support any kind of social transmitted situation, whether it is drugs, drugs use, whether it is violence, whether it is sexual transmitted infections and of course that would include HIV."
Cuellar says while the number of AIDS cases in Belize remains alarmingly high, there was a marked decrease in the number of new HIV cases reported for 2009, down by almost a hundred! He said the recent announcement that the country qualified for a grant from round 9 of the Global Fund, should benefit the island through more AIDS educational and preventative programs.