Youth leaders from Belize City, Dangriga, and San Ignacio have gathered in the old capital to participate in an HIV Research Forum. The forum is the collaborative initiative of the National AIDS Commission (NAC) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). This forum was created to address overarching issues that are affecting the youth population in relation to HIV and how these issues impact the national response to HIV/AIDS. Hipolito Novelo reports.

Held under the theme “HIV, Youth and the Future: A youth leader’s forum”, the HIV Research conference was focused on youths and how to get the necessary information across.

In 2016, there were 225 new diagnosed cases of HIV in Belize. For that period, the Ministry of Health recorded an increase in rate of new HIV cases in young people, 20 years and older in both sexes.  The top three areas with the highest rate of new infections are Belize City, San Ignacio and Dangriga Towns.

Arthur Usher, Communications Officer, National AIDS Commission: “We have young people from all these three areas here today to receive information and as well to give us back what they think we should do in terms of affecting change of HIV in the country. We do know the percentage is between the ages of 19 and 49 are the high areas, young people would be 15-29. I don’t want to give out wrong statistical data so I would say in terms of that there is a high prevalence and again that is based on questionable behaviour sexual practices, sexual knowledge , sexual behaviors and for the most part that is how HIV is transmitted in Belize. “

The seminar was designed by the United Nations Development Program and the National Aids Commission. Communication Officer, Arthur Usher, says presenters were asked to share the information in such a manner that the youths present would easily comprehend it.

Arthur Usher, Communications Officer, National AIDS Commission:  “The information is preventative, behavioral, it’s also data driven. Again we are using the latest data, 2016 some of it early 2017 in terms of influencing the conversation. It’s hoped that with the data the young people can give us back their creative views as to how we use this data now to transcend and make the correct changes that we need to make.”

After the seminar, information gathered from the participants will be compiled and refined for a national response to the increase of HIV infections.

Arthur Usher, Communications Officer, National AIDS Commission:  “We are hoping that the more information we give people the more they can address if they find out if their friend has it. So today having these young people from varying backgrounds, and varying walks of life with the same information if at any time they find out that they have a friend or family member who has contracted the disease they can refer to something and have some kind of course or guidance or where to access help. So the idea is not to say you will walk out of here knowing what to do and implement and the chance but it’s to begin the conversation and to begin that process and to have them actively engaged in that process. The main challenged that we faced most of the time is make the information palatable and user friendly. We have to factor in when we are designing our program we have to factor in attention span, age range, life experience and how people deal with things. When we are working with a broad base group for the most part we try to be as basic but at the same time very information driven.”

This is the second forum of its kind to be held in Belize.

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