On December 1st, San Pedro Town joined the rest of the world in celebrating World AIDS Day. On this very important occasion, the San Pedro AIDS Commission held a very important annual AIDS walk through the streets of San Pedro Town.
Starting bright and early at 7:00 a.m., committee members, along with concerned citizens of the community took their time to show their support on the very important issue. In the country of Belize, since its first detection in 1986 to the end of December 2004, there were 3,660 reported cases. Of that number approximately 558 people have died from the disease.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Said Musa was present at a ceremony held at the Radission Hotel. He commented, “Though many Belizeans have some knowledge of HIV/AIDS and can generally identify how this disease is spread, few persons have internalized the devastating effects the epidemic can have on individuals and their families and even fewer still have recognized that perhaps they themselves may be at risk of being infected or affected by this disease. But the reality remains that HIV/AIDS is not just a topic to be ignored with the false perception that it is only destroying the lives of those in Africa, which we so often see and hear about.”
How true were Hon.Musa’s words! Belize now has the highest prevalence rate in the Central American region. The country has been ranked the third highest infection rate in the Caribbean and as of last year, 450 new cases were reported. Up to June 2005, 225 new cases were recorded and of this number 113 were men while 112 were women. But again, the true numbers can only be known when everyone gets tested. However due to discrimination and the fear of stigmatism, many people live with the disease without knowing that they might be infected.
Honorable Musa continued, “Government and civil society have been stepping up the response conducting numerous activities and establishing programs geared at prevention and raising awareness as well as providing care, treatment and support. Today some 300 Belizeans are taking advantage of government’s pledge made a year ago today to provide antiretroviral medications free of cost to those who need it. Advocacy efforts by various partners of the National AIDS Commission have met with much success in involving more sectors as part of the community based response.
But many challenges remain to be faced. Efforts need to be more coordinated so that more people in this country have access to those critical services. Treatment alone is not enough to improve the lives of those infected. There is room for additional support. Counseling and home based care are critical so that families are empowered to take care of their loved ones ensuring that the sad incident of the woman on the street does not occur again. It brings to light the sad reality that stigma, fear and discrimination are still the most painful symptoms of AIDS.”
And, with the promise to provide counseling and assistance to People Living with HIV/AIDS, August 13th marked the beginning of a very intensive training program conducted in San Pedro by the Alliance Against AIDS. After eight arduous weeks, eight volunteers completed their course marking them as counselors of the community. This much needed service has now really become a weapon in the fight against AIDS in our community. To assist the San Pedro AIDS Commission and to become involved in fighting discrimination, kindly call Felix Ayuso at 622-3543.