St.Maarten AIDS Foundation Opens It’s Offices


Also present was MP Gracita Arrindell 

Prime Minister Sarah Wescott-Williams.

Dr.Van Osch

Dr.Van Osch’s Speech:

Honorable Prime Minister , Mrs. Sarah Wescott-Williams


Thank you for being here with us, the St. Maarten AIDS Foundation, on this memorable day.

We’re all living with HIV and AIDS

Whether you’re the person who is infected, the Prime Minister or politician who needs to take political and financial decisions in health care, the advocate to reduce stigma and discrimination, the man who needs to use his condom or the woman who talks to her partner about being faithful and do the test.

All of us every once in a while are confronted with issues that are related to HIV.

Over the years I’ve learned that HIV has consequences in pretty much every aspect of life. Friendships, relationships, sex, finances, education, tourism, labor, health care, religion, justice, the list goes on and on.

So responding to this epidemic is not just prescribing a few pills to a person who is infected, it’s not just health care. Al these different aspects need attention if we really want to fight for a generation without HIV.

And although for years I thought this would not be possible, I’m now absolutely convinced it is…….

We will reach that stage were we can say: "we have overcome……."

It might not happen before I retire, but it will happen in my life time.

Internationally there is a growing tendency of "HIV fatigue". Many other issues are equally important. And they are….. Diabetes, Cancer, Alzheimer, Preserving nature and our heritages as well as many more, deserve the same attention.

But unless we continue to fight and come up with creative solutions all the gains of the past years in HIV/AIDS will be gone. And we do see gains. The past 3 years we’ve seen the first glimmer of reduced new infections. More people are getting tested and know their HIV status. More people receive treatment. For many years we haven’t seen new baby’s born with HIV on St. Maarten.

So there is progress.

But to continue this course and to step up to that plate, we can’t give in to that "HIV fatigue", we can’t give up.

The St. Maarten AIDS Foundation has developed a 5 year plan and has hired full time staff because we have a vision that together we can create an island without new HIV infections, universal access to treatment for all persons living with HIV/AIDS and an environment free of stigma and discrimination.

The community of St. Maarten has supported us enormously through the Stronger Together Red Ribbon Campaigns a brainchild of Elie Bendaly from Scotiabank and with those funds we dare to take this next bold step in opening this office.

This will be the home of the foundation but we sincerely hope it will become your home as well. A meeting place for all.

Rea Merlet our Executive Director, Rae, can you raise your hand?

And Kimberley Meijers our Community Projects Coordinator, Kim…..

Will have their office here.

We have a new board consisting of Ria Uiterloo, secretary, Rajesh Chintaman, treasurer, Suzette Moses the Governments HIV/AIDS Program Manager, Brenda Brooks a lawyer and myself as chair person

But what is even more important…. we have a large and growing group of volunteers, and without them this work would be completely impossible.

But besides being a home for the volunteers, our board and staff this office should become a meeting place for youth, persons living with HIV/AIDS, community leaders, church leaders, and hopefully many others., To seek information, free condoms, free testing and the many workshops and discussion groups we envision.

The AIDS Foundation has come a long way.

We started 23 years ago as a small group of concerned citizens and have worked tirelessly in many different prevention, care and treatment projects, but for many years we thought we needed a more sustainable structure and staff to implement the daily operations. We didn’t have the funds to do this, but Elie Bendaly had a vision and challenged us year after year to reach higher fundraising goals. We turned out to be stronger than we thought and reached to a new level were we said…..okay it’s time to make the next step.

All thanks to the tremendous community support we have experienced over the years.

So this is a place you’ve created. All of you, those of you who are here and the thousands out there in our community.

Therefore we hope you’ll indeed make this your home.

The place to go for information, the place to ask questions, to do the test, to look for care, and take your friends.

The AIDS Foundation is an organization that really seeks to collaborate with all other organizations in our community that try to improve living and health conditions for our citizens be it government or non-governmental.

We think that good communication and collaboration is essential to be successful.

Apart from finding us in this office, you can find us on facebook and our website which is currently remodeled to make it even more client friendly.

Our Ask Annie link continues to be a place were people from all over the world are able to confidentially ask any question pertaining to HIV/AIDS and other STI’s be it related to prevention, care or treatment.

We’re also extremely happy to work together with our counterparts and friends from the French side. Liaisons Dangereuses, AIDES and the nurses, counselors and doctors in the Marigot Hospital.

I think we all share that vision that together we’re truly stronger.

So once again

Welcome….and don’t be a stranger.

We look forward to see you again.

Thank you Prime Minister…….