Eight organizations received grants from the US Embassy to support the fight against AIDS through the Ambassadors’ HIV Prevention Program. Ambassador Vinai Thummalapally made the presentation in Belmopan totaling over one hundred and twenty-three thousand dollars which is a part of a multi-million dollar package to support HIV community programs in education, prevention and treatment. News Five’s Jose Sanchez reports.

Jose Sanchez, Reporting

The US Embassy has committed two million U.S. dollars to fight against HIV in 2011 in Belize. And though new infections have dropped there were close to 250 new local cases. The US Ambassador to Belize reaffirmed his government’s commitment to ending this disease.

Vinai Thummalapally

Vinai Thummalapally, U.S. Ambassador to Belize

“Since 2003, the United States Government has contributed more than thirty-two billion U.S. dollars to the fight against HIV and president Obama reconfirmed our commitment in December of 2010 by increasing our funding for the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, better known as PEPFAR and with a pledge of over four billion dollars, U.S. dollars for the Global Fund. Simply put, we have a global health challenge against HIV and the United States government is committed to meeting that challenge with as many partners around the world as possible. Today’s grant money comes from a Caribbean-wide program called the Ambassadors’ HIV Prevention program. The U.S. Government established this program in 2002 to allow U.S. Ambassadors in the Caribbean region to provide support to local community groups combating the disease.”

Elisa Castellanos

Because the global issues of HIV and AIDs are also locally endemic, the eight grass roots NGO’s lined up to received cash that will be used to help in their awareness campaigns.

Elisa Castellanos, TikkunOlam Belize

“We got the grant which is for ten thousand dollars and we will be working with vulnerable populations. It is a program that incorporates sexual reproductive health, human rights, personal development training as well as economic empowerment skills training for vulnerable women. We work with highly vulnerable women who work in establishments where liquor is sold. Of course we know that liquor reduces inhibition increase our risk for HIV. So we really want to reach these women and give them programs that will help them to become more educated about HIV, where to access services and then also what their human rights are.”

Jose Sanchez

“And this also saves the regular population also?”

Elisa Castellanos

“Of course because it doesn’t matter if you are a vulnerable woman or not because if you are having sex with non-Belizean or Belizean men, this is how the disease is spread and this is one target area for us to be able to do our HIV prevention and STI prevention work that we do and it benefits the entire community. You do have where our men will go with different women and then go home to the wives and that is why we would want to ensure that there is some preventative mechanism in place to protect everybody.”

Caleb Orosco

HIV does not discriminate against age, color, sex or sexual preference. UNIBAM’s flamboyant front man Caleb Orozco received the cheque on his organization’s behalf.

Caleb Orosco, UNIBAM

“True enough, no matter age, no matter sexual orientation, gender or identity, NIV does not discriminate. Unfortunately, the system where the health services are dependent on people or in a community where people may not understand sexual minority population, efforts have to be made to raise awareness about the dynamics of homophobia and as such the award will support our effort to increase awareness on the issue—in the community and the health system as well as right enforcement and stigma reduction.”

Laura Smith, Pasmo

Laura Smith

“Pasmo is the Pan American Social Marketing Organization and in Belize our main focus is HIV/AIDS prevention. We are really, really excited to partner with the embassy and we are really grateful the ambassador’s support in this program. We plan on training, volunteering, counseling and testing service providers and working with people living with HIV, with this funds that we have received. We are going to be partnering with others to make this happen.”

Nancy Leiva

Nancy Leiva, Go Hoven-The Hummingbirds

“We are a branch of the Go-Hoven Organization in Belize and we work with youth leadership in sexual and reproductive health. Well the funds are intended to complete our project. We have two more activities to complete our project. And actually the funds were given to us for three activities; one of which we recently completed this weekend which was a health fair in Corozal. The other funds are to be used for a youth Olympics in Corozal and closing training with young people that we have been working with for a year and also includes graduation from the project. We have a saying that we came up with that at the end of the project we want our young people to be able to make wiser decisions because it equals healthy sexuality. So we trained them in different areas so that they can take on leadership roles and be more comfortable with their sexuality and so that they can make better decisions regarding that.”

Vinai Thummalapally

“Overall for Belize, an estimated two point three percent of the population is known to be HIV positive, which is the highest rate in Central America and the third highest in the Caribbean. We still have a lot of work to do. And we must remember that we are working together. I am delighted to have excellent partners in Belize—the Ministry of Health, the National AIDS Commission and the dedicated NGOs who are essential in continuing the progress we’re making against HIV.”

Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

The Ambassadors’ HIV Prevention Program is also being implemented elsewhere in the Caribbean to strengthen the regional strategy to combat HIV/AIDS.

Channel 5