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Future of Allen Vincent Smith foundation uncertain

Condoms and AIDS information packets made the Allen Vincent Smith Foundation a landmark of Bermuda House Lane.<br><br>That was until this August when the office closed its doors, leaving Bermuda without a resource centre dedicated to the fight against HIV/AIDS.<br><br>Former executive director Michael Fox, the face of local AIDS activism, is now making plans to relocate to Trinidad this week to help to run a regional HIV/AIDS resource centre.

Condoms and AIDS information packets made the Allen Vincent Smith Foundation a landmark of Bermuda House Lane.That was until this August when the office closed its doors, leaving Bermuda without a resource centre dedicated to the fight against HIV/AIDS.Former executive director Michael Fox, the face of local AIDS activism, is now making plans to relocate to Trinidad this week to help to run a regional HIV/AIDS resource centre.It?s been a long struggle since 1992 when he first helped set up the resource centre to battle apathy and encourage Bermudians to fight the spread of the disease.Mr. Fox is now helping to launch the Caribbean Regional Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS website which is due to go online this week.Mr. Fox has conducted training programmes locally which included encouraging middle-aged women to buy condoms and attending workshops in the Caribbean and other areas of the world.Mr. Fox said increased costs and a lack of charitable funding caused the centre to close.He said the fight against the virus is not deemed as important as other charitable causes and has long struggled to fight complacency.The Foundation?s directors have not announced whether or not the centre will re-open or if Government plans to fund its educational efforts. Mr. Fox told last week there may be an effort to re-open the centre but, if the foundation was to reopen it, a monetary grant would be necessary.?Services cost money, pamphlets cost money, there is a lot of general information needed ? I can?t put a dollar figure to it but much is needed,? said Mr. Fox.He added: ?The issue of education is important and will continue to be important but, at this point in my life, I am stepping up my activities regionally which will be my primary focus.?There may be an effort to re-launch the organisation and get it running as the issue of education is very important,? he said. ?It needs some reorganisation and a dedicated board of directors and volunteers.?However, the importance of getting people to commit to the cause of fighting the disease and keeping up an ongoing community dialogue was challenging on a daily basis for Mr. Fox. For more than a year, Government has been working towards establishing a national AIDS policy.?AIDS is not one person?s problem, it is a community problem ? we all need to be behind the issue to have a collective fight against AIDS ? in Bermuda, in the region and globally,? said Mr. Fox. ?We?ve always had that problem as a community that someone else will take care of the problem.?I was always amazed at the number of people would see me on the street, stop me and say I saw you on the news and keep up the good work. But these were the people who did not come in to offer their help. People could not understand that HIV/AIDS was their problem too.?The foundation also provided guidance for people living with the virus and ran a help line.Although the centre?s website is up and running and provides educational information and a link to resources, members of the community and young people will now be turning to Government for the bulk of information and the education they receive about the potentially fatal HIV.There is no private and independent educational organisation in physical existence a fact Mr. Fox said is worrying as sexual activity among young people increases.Last year Government launched a National AIDS Committee, however, he said, the group has not met over the last few months and the safe sex, educational message is not getting out to people in the community, particularly students and young people, on a regular basis.A target of the committee was to ensure students received instruction in the classroom about HIV/AIDS. Mr. Fox said standard health curricula touch on the topic, however, there is no standardised instruction in public schools on making healthy life choices.Young people today may not be as aware as the older generation of the 1980s and early 1990s, when a number of people lost their lives to the disease, causing governments around the world to step up their educational efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, he said.?We were working on recommendations and initiatives for the Health Minister and the Chief Medical Officer, but I?m not sure what happened to these ideas,? he said.?As far as I?m concerned we cannot wait any longer, we have to keep the issue on the table so that we keep talking about it, so that HIV/AIDS does not become someone else?s problem.?We can?t all be doctors but, at some level, we must show an understanding to people living with AIDS and to those groups we call the vulnerable groups who are less likely to seek treatment if they feel they are at risk,? he said.Mr. Fox also told a story from a recent conference he went to in St. Kitt?s.?It included not just health care workers but Premiers and Prime Ministers, people from the higher echelons of society and that?s where it must start,? he said.Participants were all asked a hypothetical question which they had to agree or disagree with ? if they knew their 15-year-old daughter was sexually active would the parents give her a condom?Mr. Fox said the Minister took a long time to make up his mind.?He sat there winded because he has a 15-year-old daughter. He struggled to make up his mind. For the first time HIV became real to him.?

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Published February 04, 2011 at 8:56 am (Updated February 04, 2011 at 8:56 am)

Future of Allen Vincent Smith foundation uncertain

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