International AIDS Conference 2012
Attended by Prime Minister of St. Maarten and Dutch AIDS Ambassador
St. Maarten Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams and Netherlands AIDS Ambassador Marijke Wijnroks spoke at the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., and addressed the Netherlands role in the global fight against the epidemic.
"We achieved a lot of results in the last years," said Mrs. Wijnroks, who was appointed in 2004 to convey the Dutch policy to combat the AIDS epidemic. “Fighting AIDS is one of our top priorities.” Ambassador Wijnroks advocated that countries continue investing money to fight AIDS because “it is still a major problem.” “There are 34 million people living with HIV/AIDS and a lot of people without access to treatment,” the Ambassador said.
AIDS Ambassador Marijke Wijnroks: "We achieved a lot of results the last years."
Fight against HIV
During the conference, the ambassador co-chaired a session on the key issue of HIV and sex workers, and was a featured speaker on a panel with AIDS ambassadors from the US, Kenya, France, Sweden and Australia to discuss the role of diplomacy in retaining momentum to battle AIDS.
The Netherlands uses an integrated approach to SRHR (Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights) and HIV/AIDS. Dutch AIDS policy focuses on two major points: prevention, including unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases; and sexual and reproductive rights.
Prime Minister Wescot-Williams addressed the urgency in tackling the stigma that surrounds HIV/AIDS to successfully fight the virus. "Stigma, discrimination, and denial have been classified as the third driver of the HIV epidemic, next to HIV and AIDS themselves," said Prime Minister Wescot-Williams
According to the Prime Minister, the HIV epidemic has reached a defining moment. “By acting decisively on recent scientific advances in HIV treatment and biomedical prevention, there is now the potential to end the HIV epidemic,” she said Monday during a session at the conference. “My country St. Maarten has come a long way in the fight against HIV.”
The Prime Minister said her country’s progress is manifested in increased awareness in the population by, for instance, public-private partnerships, regional recognition of St. Maarten's efforts, responses to the call for voluntary testing, and a girl empowerment program.
Prime Minister of Sint Maarten about the Need of Addressing Stigmas Surrounding AIDS
A long way to go
Ton Coenen, director of the Dutch organization AIDS Fonds, was one of many conference attendees from the NGO community who is fighting for a generation free from AIDS.
“But that is still a long way to go,” said Mr. Coenen, who sees collaboration between governments and NGOs as a crucial factor in the fight.
Mr. Coenen remembers three decades ago when the HIV virus first hit the Netherlands, and “the NGOs were much closer to the groups that actually were affected by the epidemic.”
Today, he sees that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs invests worldwide in emphasizing the need of government and NGO collaboration. “Civil society often has a stronger position to advocate to governments, but also UN agencies to do more,” he said.