UN helps Belize fight highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in Central America
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is implementing an HIV/AIDS grant agreement with Belize to treat and prevent the disease among the large number of teens and young adults in the country, which has the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in Central America.
“Scaling up treatment isn't just a moral imperative, it's a practical possibility, even in poor countries,” Jeffrey O'Malley, Director of the HIV/AIDS Group in the UNDP Bureau for Development Policy, said yesterday of UNDP's agreement to manage the $3.1-million grant from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, & Malaria.
The fund is an international financing institution that to date has committed $21.7 billion in 150 countries to support large-scale prevention, treatment and care programmes for the three diseases.
“This partnership between the Global Fund and UNDP is the best of both worlds,” said Francisco Roquette, UNDP Assistant Resident Representative in Belize, which has a total population of just 333,200, 35 per cent of whom are younger than 14. “It's a perfect combination of very global knowledge with very concrete understanding of the challenges on the ground.”
Belize has an HIV prevalence of 2.1 per cent among adults, the highest in Central America and third-highest in the wider Caribbean after the Bahamas and Haiti, according to a 2007 study. UNAIDS, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS, estimates some 3,600 people are currently living with HIV in Belize, 2,000 of them women.
“Strong partnerships across multiple ministries of government, and between governments and communities, are absolutely essential,” Mr. O'Malley said. “Prevention works when it focuses on and involves those most at risk of HIV infection.”
Bordering Mexico and Guatemala, Belize faces numerous challenges that can drive the HIV epidemic. With high rates of poverty, unemployment, chronic malnutrition, drug abuse, and violence, the country is highly vulnerable to economic shocks and natural disasters.
Provision of adequate health care is significantly hindered by the steady outflow of many professionals, including health-care workers.
The grants program aims to deliver life skills-based HIV education to secondary school students; provide access to condoms and subsidized referrals and testing for sexually transmitted infections; design and deliver psychosocial support to people living with HIV; provide support services to children affected by AIDS; and offer anti-retroviral drugs free of cost at all treatment points.