Volunteers Speak To San Pedro about HIV/AIDS

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 15, No. 11            March 17, 2005

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HIV/AIDS is plaguing the nation, it has become a worldwide pandemic and has unfortunately become a part of our lives; today millions of people have fallen victim to this fatal virus or know someone who is infected. Various speeches, releases and seminars are held over the world in the effort to educate the public on this deadly disease.

    Lighthouse Christian Radio has joined the efforts of many. Director Clive Welsh has joined forces with an organization known as He Intends Victory based out of Irvine, California, USA who help disseminate information, assistance and “put a face” to the pandemic. Pastor and President Bruce A. Sonnenberg along with two individuals living with HIV/AIDS visited Ambergris Caye this week. During their visit they spoke to students from island schools including the San Pedro High School and openly shared their stories.

    Pastor Sunnenberg is the founder of many Christian/Service organizations and explained that He Intends Victory is an “international Christian ministry to those affected by HIV/AIDS. HIV started from a support group in 1989 at the Village Church and is now dedicated to educating the world community and the church on how to effectively care and minister in the area of HIV and AIDS and sharing the hope of Jesus Christ to those ‘facing their mortality.’” This organization (HIV) has fulltime workers in the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Uganda, Belize, Kenya, Vietnam and Thailand where they have built a home for HIV positive babies, orphans, and people.

    Cory Norlund, is HIV positive and shared his story with those gathered. He explained that he lived a high-risk life without using any form of protection. “Like many young people out there, I believed that I was invincible.” Shortly after Cory found out that he had been infected he began treatment. “Do not get it wrong. Not just because there is treatment out there means that everything will be ok. If you think that it is, I recommend that you do more research on the side effects there are to using these medications. Remember: once you get AIDS, there is no cure; you have to be on medication for the rest of your life.” His one recommendation to people who “lead or led a high risk life is to get tested now. I know how difficult it is to go and get tested but the sooner you do that, the sooner you can get medication if you are positive.”

    Joan Yorba-Gray, who acquired the virus and is now living in the advanced stage which is AIDS, is the secretary for the organization (HIV) and is a woman of deep faith in God. She explains that her faith was severely tested in 1988 when she found out that her very ill husband had AIDS. “What he told me next was shocking. He admitted that he had had sexual relations outside our marriage and I knew that I could have gotten infected as well.” Joan got tested and her results came back positive. A short year later, her husband passed away and, “I feared my children would become orphans. I felt such grief and pain for the trauma that had entered their lives, I struggled with my mortality.” Joan found help and support from the church and she says, “the lord still has a life ahead for me and I knew it because He loves everybody.” Years after receiving her results, Joan met and fell in love with her husband and the couple have been married for years and he is still HIV negative (is not infected). “There are a lot of women in my position who just pretend nothing is wrong. If you know your spouse is cheating – take action,” was her one of her many advices. “Looking at someone can not tell you if they are infected or not, be careful. HIV/AIDS does not discriminate.”

    Their speeches to the youths, and the general public were aimed at shedding some light at the struggle one has to keep up with their normal lives, once they have been infected. They went on to explain that not only is the medications costly, but requires discipline since it needs to be taken and certain hours and times of the day, not to mention the many side effects. In their sessions, they stressed the ABC’s on how to prevent this illness. A – abstain, B - be faithful, and C - use a condom, if one does not heed this advice they may face D – death.

    Television and radio advertisements “bombard” the airwaves and inform the people on how this disease can be contracted. A press release issued by the Ministry of Health last week stated, “HIV/AIDS is a severe problem in Belize, being its prevalence the highest per capita in Central America making our country number one in rank. Although HIV/AIDS in Belize is concentrated primarily among young men, the epidemic is spreading to an increasing proportion of women.” The report released demonstrates that “HIV/AIDS reported from the years 1986 (the first case of AIDS was reported in Belize) to end 2003 indicate that 2,471 individuals acquired HIV, 669 developed AIDS and there was a reported 464 deaths related to AIDS. In 2003, the reported new HIV Infections were 447, AIDS Cases were 109 and deaths related to AIDS were 84.” A reality that is haunting our beloved Belizean nation!

    The reported new HIV Infections for 2000-2002 were 226, 330 and 431 respectively. The reported AIDS Cases for this same time period were 46, 72 and 109. The deaths related to AIDS were 38, 32 and 77 respectively for 2000-2002. Clearly, the number of newly diagnosed HIV Infections continues to increase in Belize.”

    In an interview with The San Pedro Sun, Pastor Sunnenberg stressed the importance that we all need to “KNOW YOUR HIV STATUS, GET TESTED TODAY.” “Everybody needs to take responsibility for their actions and know that you can not get infected by talking to someone or touching someone. Please do not discriminate!”

    Anyone wanting more information on this issue or their organization He Intends Victory (HIV) can contact them at 1-800-HIV HOPE, Fax: 949-727-0122 or visit their website at www.heintendsvictory.com.

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