Today in Belize City the first ever National HIV Prevention Summit was hosted at the Belize Biltmore Plaza. For the next three days, workers in the fight against HIV/AIDS will be strategizing on common issues including stigma and discrimination and reaching vulnerable populations. Executive Director of the National AIDS Commission secretariat, Dr. Martin Cuellar, outlines the objectives of the summit.
Doctor Martin Cuellar – Director of the National Aids Commission:
We’re happy to be gathered along with partners from around the country who work in HIV prevention, for three days on the First National Summit on Prevention. The Summit has three main objectives. The first one is for us to educate ourselves on the latest analysis of facts and data available in the country, that speak to what are out current prevention gaps. And then on day two we’re looking closely at what are new methodologies for prevention that have been tried and proven successful in the Region. And day three we will do a lot of discussion abd then come up with consensus on new standards for various elements of prevention work, as well as new plans for coordinating our efforts nationally, so that we work towards a more efficient and effective initiative over the next couple of years.
One of the visiting presenters, director of the Gay/MSM/Transgender Initiative at the Foundation for AIDS Research (AMFAR) Kent Klindera, says research by the organization has found that in countries like Belize that have strong anti-sodomy laws, there has been a high prevalence rate of HIV.
We have data now from Belize that shows this as well. Your 13.9% rate amongst MSM in Belize is quite high compared to the rest of the population. You have a study that was done in Jamaica, four countries in the region, that looked at that very thing. Where you had high HIV rates you also had sodomy laws, and where you had lower HIV rates you had no sodomy laws. So it was quite clear from that study that was done as well.
According to Klindera this is the result of LBGT people being afraid to come forward because of stigma and discrimination. He tells us more about what this does to these individuals.
What I’m going to be sharing today is effective programs. What we know in working with this population of gay men, men who have sex with men, trans, is that you need to look at an ecological approach. You need to reach with people. You can’t just give people condoms. You have to give them a reason to want to use that condom. You can’t just promote people to be faithful. You have to give them a reason to be faithful. Think if you’re a gay man. You can’t get married. So you’re told be faithful, yet you’re not allowed to get married. You have a big contradiction there. So, once again, it’s effective programs, looking at those contradictions, and looking to give people much, much more than a simple HIV message. Part of it is reducing poverty, and that’s a big reason why people are often going into sex work. Part of it is building an environment that they feel comfortable. Once again, if I don’t feel comfortable talking to my doctor, how am I going to disclose my true behaviour? Hence I’m not going to. I’m gonna lie to my doctor. I’m not going to get the treatment. I’m not going to get the care I need, if I’m not being able to be truthful with my doctor.
And Klindera points out that Belize has signed on to various human rights declarations and statements which he says include so-called “LGBT rights” although he denies that these are special or separate from basic human rights. The conference has the participation of active local organizations including C-NET, the society for persons who are HIV-positive.