“Very decent turnout” at free HIV testing day

POSTED: 11/28/11 7:52 AM

RENT premieres Thursday

St. Maarten – Seventy-one people were tested for HIV during a free and confidential testing day the St. Maarten AIDS Foundation at the Scotiabank on Sunday. The group of 34 women and
37 men braved the rainy conditions to make the event and two of them were told they’d need additional testing. The group was multi-generational as the youngest person tested was 14 and the eldest was 75.
President of the St. Maarten AIDS Foundation Dr. Gerard Van Osch called the turnout “very decent” and he and his tem are encouraged by the fact that they had slightly more men at the testing day than women. Typically the women are in the majority. The team is also pleased that there were more Haitian and Spanish speaking people at this testing day than at previous ones. They always have counselors available who are multilingual and continue to urge people in every language group to get tested and know their status.
“It was encouraging to see that despite the continuous rain people came in rubber boots and weathering the storm with umbrellas, but made sure to take advantage of this free opportunity. We were extremely happy with the support we received from the students from AUC and the Scotiabank Staff. All in all it was a great collaborative effort from the St. Maarten AIDS Foundation together with more than 45 volunteers from our community,” van Osch said.
Later he’d add, “HIV is a preventable infection. Our HIV test days make clear that 50 % of our community, that is one in two, has had risk of HIV infection in the past three months. We need to bring that risk down. Only a collaborative effort and individual awareness and (sexual) behavior change can turn this around.”
PJD2 Radio did several hours of live coverage from the bank during the testing day. The coverage was anchored by Fernando Clark, who was assisted by Don Hughes. Telem provided the necessary phone lines. There were also several phone interviews with Island 92 that focused on raising awareness and sharing information on the testing day. One of the people on hand to give information was the HIV/AIDS Program Manager Suzette Moses-Burton.
With the testing day behind them the AIDS Foundation and its volunteers are turning their full attention to selling raffle tickets for the red Chevrolet Spark that has been donated by donated by General Motors and F.W.Vlaun and Son.
“We still need to sell a lot of tickets this week before the raffle coming Sunday December 4, so we would like to encourage everyone who didn’t buy a ticket yet to support the fundraising efforts of Scotiabank and the St. Maarten AIDS Foundation in the Stronger Together Red Ribbon Campaign. Raffle tickets are available from foundation members and both Scotiabank locations (Philipsburg and Simpsonbay). This year due to the difficult economic times we understand that it’s difficult for most to contribute as much as last year but every dollar counts and we still hope to make the $100, 000 goal,” van Osch said.
The money the foundation raises from selling the tickets and ribbons will be used in the foundation’s work in 2012. This includes funding continued medication for people who need it, supporting H.O.P.E – the support group for people living with HIV – continuing the Girl Power program, furthering the recent research study among secondary school youth, the development of the “Real Talk” boys program for in and out of school teenage boys, the education program and condom distribution in the brothels and continuing free test days. The foundation also wants to roll out several new initiatives that will make the foundation more visible and will help them in increasing HIV testing and treatment for those that are infected with HIV. The latter effort is based on the conviction that since the island has mother to child transmission “under control” efforts must now turn to ensuring treatment access for as many people as possible and reducing the rate of new infections.
“The St. Maarten AIDS Foundation will work hard to achieve that goal and hopes everyone in our community will do its part achieving this. Treatment of persons living with HIV is not only beneficial for the individual living with the infection because it keeps them healthy and productive members of our community. It also lowers the amount of HIV virus in their blood. With the effective medications it becomes almost impossible to transmit the virus. So treatment has an individual health benefit but also a very strong prevention benefit. By treating everyone in need of HIV/AIDS treatment we can actually get this epidemic under control. It’s up to us to make that happen,” van Osch explained.
The foundation and the program management team will also spend the week inviting people to see the Broadway Musical RENT, which premieres Thursday with a gala performance and continues until Sunday night. Tickets are available from cast members, the Program Management Team, and AIDS Foundation members.
“This fantastic musical with a strong message about life, love, and HIV/AIDS will not only be a good HIV awareness spectacle, it’s will certainly be a real treat for all who will visit one of the four days this show will be on (December 1st – December 4th) There will be no additional performances so make sure you get your ticket,” van Osch concluded.

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