By Benjamin Flowers
This week countries around the world, including Belize, joined together to observe World AIDS Day under the theme “Getting to Zero”, symbolizing the global target to have zero new HIV infections by 2030.
The Ministry of Health, through its various departments, and several of its partners, held activities country wide to engage the public on the day’s importance.
The National AIDS Commission (NAC), in collaboration with the University of Belize (UB), held a National HIV/AIDS Youth Symposium at the university’s Jaguar Auditorium at its Belmopan campus under the local theme, “Youth: Breaking the HIV/AIDS Epidemic by 2030”.
The event included a variety of presentations and performances, including songs, poetry and drama, discussing pertinent sexual reproductive health issues. Clinical psychologist, Dr. Peter Weller, gave the keynote address to hundreds of students.
Weller, renowned for spearheading the development of a coordination and comprehensive counseling/welfare program for people living with HIV in Jamaica, emphasized the importance of not only engaging the youth, but respecting the diversity among the youth when preparing messages about HIV/AIDS.
The Ministry’s Health Education and Community Participation Bureau (HECOPAB), along with the Pan American Social Marketing Organization (PASMO) held a health fair in the Battlefield Park in Belize City on Tuesday.
The fair, much like the symposium, was geared towards bringing relevant information about HIV/AIDs and other sexually transmitted infections to the public, as well as other topics such as proper condom usage.
The Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) center also attended the event to offer free HIV rapid screening for attendees of the fair to know their HIV status. Similar HIV testing services were being offered countrywide.
National statistics show that from January to June 2015, there have been 98 reported new HIV infections in Belize. If the trend remains constant, there will be a reduction in infections when compared to the 221 new infections recorded in 2014.
According to a study conducted by the NAC, young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are considered at highest risk, along with men over the age of 40.
Minister of Health Pablo Marin, in a public statement, said: “Great strides have been made in the National Response, but we acknowledge that much remains to be done if we are to reach the 90-90-90 targets set for 2020.”