AIDS Foundation, Scotiabank launch Stronger Together

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PHILIPSBURG–St. Maarten AIDS Foundation and Scotiabank announced the launch of the ninth annual Stronger Together/Red Ribbon fundraising campaign.  Scotiabank spearheads the fundraising effort.

The 2014 campaign fell just short of the annual goal of US $100,000, a reflection of the continuing challenge in fundraising locally and internationally.

Established in 2006, the Stronger Together/Red Ribbon campaign seeks to raise funds that help fuel multiple HIV prevention, support and care programs for those living with HIV/AIDS on St. Maarten.

Over the years, the campaign has benefited from all corners of the community – from large sponsors such as the Maho Group of Companies and Scotiabank, to students, church groups and individuals who seek to make a difference.

In recent years, the Stronger Together campaign also saw support from regional and international entities, such as Samenwerkende Fondsen, Population Services International/Caribbean, the Dutch Representation and COC Netherlands.

The Red Ribbon campaign at primary schools combines HIV awareness with a dollar donation for a Red Ribbon, which can be decorated with the donor’s name and brought to Scotiabank to pin on a specially dedicated wall.

“We ask the St. Maarten community for continued support in ensuring that we can reach even greater swaths of the population, so that everyone is informed, empowered, and tested for HIV. This will lead to a healthier island community for the benefit of all involved,” Gerard van Osch, AIDS Foundation President.

“Fundraising is always a challenge, but recently we have seen it get tougher – it’s only through the goodwill of local supporters and in-kind donations that we have been able to stay afloat thus far,” said Van Osch.

Maintaining a physical office is “a big financial commitment,” but one the foundation decided on to bring consistently high quality services to the community. The AIDS Foundation secretariat in the Sun Building in Cole Bay remains the only place on the Dutch side to offer free and confidential HIV testing and counseling.

The secretariat is only entity offering HIV/STI prevention education outreach and care/treatment support for persons living with HIV/AIDS. “So, it is important that we are able to maintain the secretariat to professionally organize and coordinate the various programs,” said Van Osch

HIV continues to affect the community with recent incidence levels that appear to be creeping up, from a slight decline in the early 2010s.

“If it appears to have decreased, it is only because persons living with the infection stay healthy with more effective medications, making HIV less visible, and also because they are still afraid to publicly acknowledge their status due to continued stigma,” Van Osch said.

“HIV is very real. It is important to test as many persons as possible to identify those unknowingly infected. By treating all persons infected we not only keep these individuals healthy but also reduce HIV transmission, ultimately leading to a decline in new infections and prevalence,” he pointed out.

The AIDS Foundation conducted some 1,200 HIV tests in 2014, all free to the public, and delivered Girl Power and Real Talk programmes to 700 teenaged boys and girls at 10 schools.

Also, specially trained educators visited adult entertainment venues in 62 separate sessions, reaching out to 658 workers.

Another specially trained educator visited nail salons, beauty shops and car washes, reaching 470 people in 89 small sessions conducted in Spanish.

An average of 15 uninsured persons living with HIV continue to receive free care and treatment, while many more benefit from individual counseling and the HOPE support group.

To make a donation, e-mail info@sxmaidsfoundation.org or make a direct deposit at Scotiabank account numbers 7223 (US dollars) and 7221 (guilders) in the name of “Stronger Together HIV/AIDS Campaign.”