AIDS Commission consults with San Pedro community

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 11, No. 20            May 24, 2001

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New AIDS billboard at the San Pedro airstrip

"Prevention-treat everyone as if they are an HIV positive person! That is the only way to be absolutely sure you are protected." This was just one of many pieces of advice given during the National AIDS Commission (NAC) consultation held to address the rising incidence of HIV/AIDS in Belize. A team of key players in the field visited San Pedro last Wednesday to spread their message consisting of: Minister of Human Development, Women and Civil Society, Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, Chairperson of the NAC; Ms. Martha Carrillo, Coordinator for the NAC; Mr. Rodel Beltran Perera, Director of Alliance Against AIDS (AAA); Mr. George Carr representing the Ministry of Health and Dr. Giovanni Solorzano of the San Pedro Health Clinic (SPHC). AAA volunteer-educator William Longsworth acted as facilitator for the day-long discussion. Attending the meeting from the community were over thirty concerned residents, businesspersons, professionals and media personnel.

    In her introduction, Chairperson Balderamos-Garcia explained that it was "extremely important to start the dialogue" since many remain silent regarding the subject of HIV/AIDS. She stressed this is an "issue that touches the lives of just about everybody" and the time is now to face this epidemic head-on. The Minister emphasized the need to make those "living with aids," patients, loved ones, as well as the general population, aware of the services available to them. Besides providing services, she listed the commission's main priority as being an advocate for the cause. Minister Balderamos-Garcia added the commission also works to: facilitate a change in people's behaviors and practices to curb or prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS; coordinate the activities between the multi-sector agencies involved; establish a National AIDS Policy; continue the monitoring and evaluation of the HIV/AIDS situation in this country.

    Mr. Carr then addressed the gathering providing HIV/AIDS statistics. He stated the disease was first detected in this country in 1986  and involved a Belizean male who had returned to Belize from the United States. Since then, there have been 1263 cases detected resulting in 243 deaths. Mr. Carr stated that although a 1998 study showed that people who reported to be living with AIDS were 2.01% of the Belize population (2 in 100), ten times that figure would be more accurate. He stressed these "unconfirmed" cases as the most dangerous. Mr. Carr informed that HIV/AIDS testing is provided absolutely free (except for immigration) through the Government of Belize and this testing should be taken advantage of by sexually active people. Upon confirmation of this, it appeared that anyone requiring a test in San Pedro should make arrangements first, due to the need for trained staff to be on hand for pre-counseling requirements. Testing for HIV/AIDS at the San Pedro Health Center is performed Monday and Tuesday mornings. Mr. Carr then went on to explain that HIV/AIDS affects the working population the most, or people 15-45 years of age, and that fact could have long-term implications for the country both socially and economically. Given that information, Mr. Carr cautioned that this virus targets everyone and does not discriminate between age, race, religion, gender or financial status.

    Following those facts, Dr. Solorzano gave an assessment of the HIV/AIDS situation in San Pedro. He informed the gathering that since 1992, eleven HIV positive cases have been detected in San Pedro: four females, six males and one child. He continued that of these eleven, eight have died and there are currently two HIV positive cases on island. Dr. Solorzano congratulated organizers for the consultation, adding it was the first he had witnessed in this community in ten years.

    The remainder of the time allotted was spent in discussion listing expectations, concerns and recommendations as well as forming a San Pedro committee. Some of the concerns mentioned included: confidentiality of test results, availability of medications for treatment, amount of clinical support and training needed for counseling, need for prevention education on all levels, and the need for legislation and financial backing from government. Some of the key suggestions were: establishing more health education clinics, increasing awareness and education by networking with established organizations, and promoting healthy alternatives to the target population.

    During the end of the consultation, A San Pedro committee was formed to work with the NAC made up of concerned citizens. The committee was urged to be pro-active in their efforts and reminded of the need for solidarity and commitment. These members will meet to discuss, plan and establish a community response to the HIV/AIDS situation in San Pedro. Support was offered by the media in an effort to increase public awareness of HIV/AIDS.

    Earlier in the day, a billboard launching ceremony was conducted with Hon. Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, Area Representative Patty Arceo, Deputy Mayoress of San Pedro Mel Spain and other invited guests attending the unveiling. The theme of this particular billboard is, "Can You Tell?" The message urges individuals to be very careful because HIV/AIDS can be found in anyone. Billboards were provided through a joint effort between the Government of Belize and Belize Telecommunications Limited, G.A. Roe & Sons Ltd., Belize Electricity Limited, Bank of Nova Scotia, Texaco and Barclay's Bank. The billboard is located at the airstrip next to Maya Island Air in San Pedro.

    Anyone interested in sponsoring billboards, needing assistance or information, may call the HIV/AIDS Helpline at 02-36911 or 02-36912. Phone lines are open from 9 a.m. - 9 p.m. weekdays. In Belize City, visit Common Ground Center at 5766 Meighan Ave., or telephone 02-36493, fax 02-36494 or e-mail [email protected]
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