As the world marked the 25th observance of World AIDS Day on December 1, 2013, St. Maarten counted its stride in the past quarter century in its response to HIV/AIDS. The country has one of Caribbean’s best HIV/AIDS response programmes.
St. Maarten AIDS Foundation, celebrating 23 years of continuous service to the country, should be commended for their steadfast dedication to alleviating the impact of this disease.
Just reviewing some of the initiatives, one gets a sense of how multifaceted the foundation’s response is:
Free Rapid and Confidential Testing
This initiative sees the mobilising of more than 100 volunteers per testing event, usually held in densely populated communities. Five to seven testing events are carried out annually.
The same free, rapid and confidential tests are also available at the AIDS Foundation office in Cole Bay. For more information about free testing, visit http://sxmaidsfoundation.org/test/free_testing.php
The foundation enjoys a stigma free support of its testing days. It is not rare to see people standing in a line, chatting with each other or reading the newspaper just waiting to be tested.
Stronger Together/Red Ribbon Campaign is the foundation’s main annual fundraising initiative. The campaign, started in 2006, is jointly organised by the foundation and Scotiabank and is used to fund most of the community projects.
The campaign has garnered support from all corners of the community. Students contribute US $1 for Red Ribbons. Visitors staying at Maho Group's resorts donate US $1 for each day of their stay on the country. Scotiabank staff sell US$10 raffle tickets and businesses/associations generously donating larger amounts.
World AIDS Day 2013 also marked the launch of eighth annual Stronger Together fundraiser. The foundation and Scotiabank hope of raise US$100,000 by the end of the campaign in 2014.
The money raised allows for a sustainable approach to tackling HIV/AIDS in the community through awareness programmes, free condom (male and female) distribution, free testings and other programmes.
Real Talk, piloted in 2013, is a programme for teenaged boys arming them with the proper tools to make informed decisions, have healthy lifestyle, respect for each other, prioritise accountability, academic achievements and set solid life goals. Teams of trained volunteers go to various high schools for the 3-day Real Talk workshop. The youngsters, in most cases, are very enthusiastic to learn.
Tailored specifically for St. Maarten’s teenage girls enrolled in high schools, is an HIV/STI prevention programme that applies the theory of gender equality and empowerment.
The goal of the programme is to change the behaviour of adolescent girls in an attempt to decrease or stabilize the number of STI/HIV infections in the country, to empower them and give them tools to make healthy lifestyle decisions.
Real Talk and Girl Power were specifically created for St. Maarten teenagers. The foundation worked closely with US-based Emory University to conduct a KABP (Knowledge, Attitude, Behaviour, Practices) study to gauge the direct needs of the country’s teens.
These are just four initiatives that make a significant and direct impact on the people of St. Maarten. It is clear that this foundation takes its mission very seriously. That mission includes prevention of the transmission of HIV and other STIs and reduction their negative impact, including stigma and discrimination, provision of compassionate care, practical support services, and advocacy on behalf of those living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.
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