Governor Richards World AIDS Day Message 2009


Theme: "Universal Access and Human Rights"

World AIDS Day is a day that we pay homage and highlight the current stage of the global AIDS epidemic. It is a time we take stock and look ahead on what else can be done to create awareness about this disease.

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AIDS has taken a toll on communities all around the world. Generations of people have died, leaving a growing number of old people and children dependent on a shrinking labour force in some countries.

Millions of children have lost a parent to AIDS. They have lost a best friend, a hand to squeeze, a kiss good night, and the whisper of words of encouragement that a parent would tell their son or daughter.

Today, according to UNAIDS estimates, there are now 33.4 million people living with HIV, including 2.1 million children. During 2008, approximately 2.7 million people became newly infected with the virus and an estimated two million people died from AIDS. Around half of all people who become infected with HIV do so before they reach 25 and die by AIDS before they are 35.

Much has been done to create awareness about HIV/AIDS, but this disease remains a threat to men, women and children around the world including here on St. Maarten.

I would like to take this opportunity to commend the Sector Health Care, the local AIDS Programme Management Team, the St. Maarten AIDS Foundation and all Sponsors and Volunteers for the job that they have been doing in recent years and what they plan to embark upon in the New Year.

While treatment of AIDS is the key to keeping people alive living with AIDS today, prevention is the key to achieving an AIDS-free generation tomorrow. That is what, both public and private sectors are moving towards.

However, prevention will not be successful unless our community changes its behaviour. The talk about sexuality and sexual relations, and to emphasize safe, respectful, and consensual sexual behaviour, has to be part of the discussion that would result in behavioural change.

Some people get embarrassed when talking about sex. Others have a problem with it. Abstinence is fine for those who are able or can abstain, but condoms prevent the spread of the infection for those who can’t.

In countries where there is much greater openness and honesty about the nature of the threat that HIV presents, progress is being made.

We can beat this epidemic if we put more effort into it. No continent, no country, and no community have escaped the vicious trail of the AIDS virus. Let us band together with the objective "Universal Access and Human Rights" in mind in 2010 as the best way to respond to this challenge is to act responsibly locally and collaborate globally.