The National HIV Programme has completed a major behavioral study survey.
It examined primarily how at-risk populations are being affected by Sexually Transmitted Infections.
They launched the survey 2 years ago to find out how STI's affect 3 distinct sections of the population: those are men who have sex with men, female sex workers and persons with HIV.
They unveiled the results today in a public forum, and 7News asked the Health Ministry Representatives about the results of the survey.
Here's what they told us:
Marvin Manzanero - Director, TB/HIV Program Min. Health
"What we are doing this morning, is presenting findings of a survey we started in 2010. It's a cero-prevalence survey, and we basically looked at 2 populations: female sex workers, and men who have sex with men. We were looking at the prevalence of other sexually transmitted infections in persons with HIV. That is what we were trying to determine by looking at specific characteristics to those 3 groups."
Delanie Bain - Channel 5 News
"What will this information be used for?"
"The information is - we had not done a major study like this. This had not been done in Belize - historically, this is the first major study. What we are doing, this morning is presenting it to the national stakeholders before we - I mean, this is public information of course - there is a press release that is being drafted, but we felt that we had to present it to the national stakeholders first. The information is supposed to be used for policy development planning, and any further changes that may need to be done to our current strategies in the way we deal with HIV in Belize."
Geovannie Brackett - Plus TV
"So, tell us specifically what questions the survey is supposed to answer."
"Well, there are lots of things that we don't know about HIV. We theorize a lot of about HIV. There are huge information gaps. In the survey, more than 600 variables are being studied for each of the specific population, so there is a wealth of information that you can gather from this survey. I mean, there are many questions that will be answered, and this also calls for us to ensure that we continue to surveys like this every 3 or 5 years, as is generally recommended. Preliminary, I think with the persons who are HIV positive, which is what we presented so far, we are finding that there is a fairly low condom usage. There a good amount of knowledge that people know, but it seems that this knowledge is not being translated into any behavior change. For the female sex worker group, we found a lower prevalence of HIV that what is being reported in other Central American countries; it's below 1%. But they have a high prevalence of STI, and also low condom usage consistently. In the men who have sex with men group, we have a prevalence that seems to be higher than other Central American countries, and also low condom usage."
Notably, the prevalence of HIV among Female Sex Workers sampled in the study was less then 1% significantly lower than the estimated rate of the general population which is 2.3%. It is much higher, 13.8% among men who have sex with men.
Only 60% of the target populations were reached in this survey due to difficulties such as getting persons to participate.
The final report will be released next year.