On Friday, November 28th, Dr. Giovanni Solórzano, San Pedro's government doctor, held a meeting at the Town Hall at 3:00 p.m. with members of the community involved in education and health, to discuss World AIDS Day which was observed on Monday, December 1st.
The meeting was attended by educators from the R.C. School, Lidia's Institute of Fine Education, St. Peter's College and San Pedro Preparatory School, San Pedro High, Little Angel's Pre-School, St. Matthew's University Medical School, police officers, San Pedro Sun, Patty Arceo and Catherine Paz of Tropic Air. Dr. Solórzano commenced by stating the purpose of the meeting. "We are often separated from Belize City and so they have asked me to meet with you all and to form a committee with the main objective being to help those with and to help prevent HIV/AIDS." He said that he had been given red ribbons, candles and T-shirts to be used to observe World AIDS Day. Red ribbons were passed out to the attendees and teachers were encouraged to have their students make ribbons of their own. Candles were to be used in a candle light ceremony. Dr. Solórzano said that in Corozal they were observing the day by holding an open forum and health officials were planning to visit schools and give lectures on the disease. In Orange Walk a music concert was to be held and the profits used to assist people infected and those affected by HIV/AIDS. In Belize City a silent walk and open forum was planed. Dr. Solórzano said that he to participate in committees here in San Pedro and asked for the co-operation of the group in order to educate and bring awareness to the people in San Pedro about HIV/AIDS.
Teacher Katy Brickey, of the San Pedro Roman Catholic Primary School, asked if there were any cases of HIV/AIDS in San Pedro and how many. Dr. Solórzano answered that there have been 9 cases known to him. Two of those people died two years ago and three of those remaining are children. He also said that it has been estimated that one infected person will make contact with 30 other people. In 1993 Belize had the second highest incidence rate with AIDS in Central America, Honduras being first. In 1997 Belize has the highest incidence rate per capita in Central America. In 1997, there are 545 known cases of HIV infected persons and 225 are infected with AIDS. It is estimated that the actual number of HIV positive cases in Belize is around 5,000 - 6,000. He also said that by the end of 1997, a million children under the age of 15 are expected to be living with HIV, over 90% of them will be in developing countries. He mentioned an orphaned child in Cayo who is HIV positive and the growing number of children in Belize being affected by the disease. He said that this year's theme is very appropriate: "Children living in a world of AIDS." He explained that to treat patients with the disease is very expensive. "It's $15,000.00US to start treatment. We don't have the money but we are trying our best to assist in the future."
PC Joseph Usher asked if the treatment would eventually cure an individual or was it only to maintain life. The Dr. Solórzano answered that there is much research is being done but that at this stage much of it is theory. He used the famous basketball player "Magic" Johnson as an example. "The virus has not been detected in his system for some time now but doctors don't know if he's been cured of HIV or if the virus will return. There's no telling for sure."
Dr. Solórzano said that the purpose of the meeting was not only to form a committee but the get feed back from the members of the community involved in health and education. He made mention of the articles printed in the San Pedro Sun and how pleased he was about reading them. He also commended San Pedro High for having the essay contest and Gina Allnatt for writing a very informative essay based on the theme "Children living in a world of AIDS."
He asked the teachers and principals present what the they were doing to observe World AIDS day. Teacher Brickey said that it was a sensitive issue to discuss especially the perimeters of AIDS. She said that as a science teacher she discussed it briefly in her class but not extensively. Principal Angel Nuñez of San Pedro High, said that he was almost positive that the Catholic Church would have no problem with the teachers discussing AIDS if they did not make mention of the sexual aspect of the disease. Everyone agreed that it was difficult to discuss AIDS and not mention sex, since it is the main way in which the disease is transmitted. Dr. Solórzano also mentioned that two students one from Standard V and one from Standard VI, have had babies and that it is important to educate the children about this deadly disease they are being exposed to. It was also agreed that it was important to have a health official speak to the children and Dr. Solórzano asked for the assistance of St. Matthew's Medical School teachers. Dr. Mary Beth Downs, Dean of Student Affairs, agreed to assist and offered their equipment and lecture hall to carry out lectures, but, they would not be able to do so until next year.
The group discussed the different ways of transmission and the question was asked by Principal Angel Nuñez if it was possible to contract the disease at the dentist. Dr. Solórzano said yes it was possible and that if the problem. He added that it was difficult to know whether or not the dentist you're visiting is taking proper precautions against the disease. He said that there are only two doctors in town who can properly sterilize their equipment with an autoclave.
Mr. Frank Nuñez, of the Preparatory School and St. Peter's College, said that he was planning on having health officials visit his schools to give lectures but had not decided on a date. Dr. Solórzano asked the police officers present how they felt about dealing with HIV/AIDS infected persons. PC Usher replied that he could not speak for the entire department but that he was not afraid of dealing with infected persons and that police officers were informed about the disease, it is a part of their training.
Dr. Solórzano asked what precautions the airlines were taking to deal with sick patients and are these patients treated properly. Mrs. Catherine Paz of Tropic Air, replied that their flights are very short and that larger airlines do have certain policies about transporting sick people because they fear that these people might die on their flights. She added that many sick people have flown with the airline and sometime with a doctor or without. She concluded by saying that they are paying customers and have the right to fly. Ms. Graniel of Little Angel Pre-School, said that she would participate in World AIDS Day by discussing the importance of the day with her student and would make red ribbons for them to wear. Dr. Solórzano asked Health Inspector Acosta what his department was doing concerning HIV/AIDS awareness. He replied that his department's duties included education, investigation and counseling. "We offer counseling to infected persons and if the person is sexually active we investigate their activities more in depth," Health Inspector Acosta said. Dr. Solórzano explained that every patient has the right to confidentiality.
Lydia Chuc of the San Pedro Sun asked how quickly the disease could be detected in a person's system after a sexual encounter with an infected person. The doctor replied that the disease took several years to be detected and that it is important for people to be tested regularly. He also said that the rapid test used in Belize costs about $38 to $45 and that the results are available in 15 minutes or less. But the problem with the rapid test is that it is not 100% accurate and that to send samples to be tested in the US would cost $200, which most Belizeans can't afford it. He explained that in the Caribbean a series of tests is used that are just as effective as the test done in the US. He mentioned that it is especially important that laboratories provide some kind of counseling to HIV positive persons. He says that many of the patients become suicidal upon learning about their condition. Some have even decided to sleep with many other people in order to pass on the disease.
The group discussed whether or not it was plausible to organize lectures on HIV/AIDS as a part of Monday's activities. It was decided that since there was lack of man power it would be easier for the teachers present at the meeting to discuss HIV/AIDS with their students and prepare them for future lectures to be given by health officials. It was also agreed that the people present at the meeting were individuals already involved in other time consuming projects and could not give the committee the attention it needs. Another meeting will be called to establish a committee and future projects. T-shirts were distributed to the teachers and they were asked to distribute them to their students. Ms. Brickey, science teacher, and Mrs. Lupe Ancona, English teacher, at the R.C. School discussed the disease with their students on Monday, December 1st, and have requested that their students write essays about what they know and have learned about HIV/AIDS. The best essay writers will receive World AIDS Day t-shirts.
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