The number of new HIV/AIDs infections reported last year is 226, down by 7.4% from the 244 reported in 2010, and a whopping 50% cut from the 457 spike reported in 2004, according to a Ministry of Health statistics report released this week.
The stigma and discrimination resulting from testing HIV-positive have always discouraged many from getting tested, so these figures represent only the tip of the iceberg resulting in an underestimation of the total number of infections, as health workers can only hazard a guess of how many more are infected who have not been tested.
The downside to these numbers is that among the newly infected, the men outnumbered the women 119 to 107, but the male rate of infection was more than double the rate for women. Only 8,747 men got tested last year, so the 119 reported cases represents a 1.36% infection rate.
In comparison, because of the Health ministry’s program to prevent mother to child transmission of AIDS, some 16,702 women got tested, including 6,695 expecting mothers. The 107 women who tested HIV-positive represent a 0.62% infection rate, less than half that for the men.
The Belize district traditionally has the highest rate of new infections, and this year was no different with 79 men and 67 women, for a total of 146 tested positive, or 64.7 percent of the national total.
The Stann Creek district has in the past been a distant second to the Belize district, but they got bumped down to third place by the Cayo district, which reported 35 new infections from 4,774 tested: a 0.73% infection rate. These 18 women and 17 men represented 15.4 percent of the national total.
Stann Creek had 13 women and nine men test positive, from 2991 tested or a 7.4% infection rate. These 22 cases represent 9.7% of the total, while Orange Walk district had half that with five men and six women for 11 cases from 3,412 tested, a 0.32 % infection rate or 4.9% of the national total.
The Toledo and Corozal districts, perhaps for different cultural and religious reasons, have traditionally tested low, with Toledo reporting seven new cases from 2,611 tested for a 0.26% infection rates. These four men and three women were a mere three percent of the total.
The Corozal district bottomed out at five men and no women testing positive from 1,949 tested, or 2.2% of the national total. Of course, many in these districts when concerned about their HIV status may prefer to have the test done in Chetumal or Puerto Barrios, so a positive test would not be necessarily reported as part of MOH statistics.
An analysis by age group showed the modal group is 20-24 years with 13 men and 27 women for a total of 40 new cases. The 25-29 years, 30-34 year and 40-44 years all reported 28 new cases each, with the women outnumbering the men 16 to 12 in the 25-29 years set, while the men outnumbered the women 16 to 12 in the 30-34 years set, and 21 men to only seven women in the 40-44 years set.
The sexes were about on par in the 35-39 years set, with 13 men to 12 women. In comparison, teenagers of 15-19 years numbered only two male and 13 young women. This suggests a disquieting trend of younger women being infected by older men.
Testing positive isn’t necessarily the death sentence it once was; the Ministry of Health is providing anti-retroviral treatment at 13 facilities throughout the country, and 1,358 persons are in the program, again the women outnumber the men.
Those of the age group 35-39 represents largest group in therapy. The second largest age group, 30-35, has 203 patients, and the 40-44 years set is third with 180 patients.
The 45-49 years set has 148 patients in the program, while the 25-29 years set has 145. The 50-54 years set has 115 patients on therapy, but the 20-24 years set with the highest rate of new infections has only 74 patients in the program.
MOH also reported 43 new cases of syphilis, which, if allowed to go untreated, can cause insanity in its third stage. There were also 23 cases of gonorrhoea, 16 case of Chlamydia, one chancroid, seven cases of granuloma inguinale, 304 cases of trichomoniasis, 33 cases of genital herpes, 48 cases with anogenital warts, and 1,257 cases of pelvic inflammatory diseases.