The closure of the AIDS Foundation of Barbados Inc. is to the detriment of Barbadian society, said vice-president Steve Stoute.
The ten-year-old organization sent out a notice of closure last Monday informing the media it would cease operations by Friday.
The notice cited the “prevailing economic condition and its impact on the financial stability of the organization” as the cause but Stoute said, in an interview at the Barbados Olympic Association’s (BOA) headquarters in Wildey, St Michael, on Thursday, that the closure was also an indictment of the mindset of corporate Barbados. Stoute is also president of the BOA.
“The foundation relied primarily on private sector grants, membership fees and governmental as well as international agent subsidies [but] the majority of our funding came from the private sector.
“Obviously, many of them do not think [AIDS awareness] is a priority; they think they have it covered. It is the prevailing culture within corporate Barbados and maybe the country as a whole which could be to blame [but] the closure of the foundation would work to the detriment of the country.
“For me, it is very disappointing and upsetting,” he said.
Stoute said the private sector was not giving their work the importance it deserved, especially in light of the years of effort they had put in.
Executive director Akiba Reid said they had around 60 member companies but over the past few years, they had steadily reduced their contributions to the foundation.
“Our mandate was to look at interventions in the private sector workplace which focused on encouraging prevention of the disease as well as treatment, care and support; advocacy for human rights and policies for HIV/AIDS in the workplace.
“So our programming was about capturing the private sector audience and trying to encourage behaviour change through a shift in the corporate culture,” she said.
Stoute said their annual operating budget was $500 000 a year. Reid said the dramatic drop of cash inflow rendered the foundation’s operations unsustainable.
“It is something we’ve been monitoring for the last 12 to 18 months and we’ve been working extremely aggressively to increase membership, but the challenge was the companies’ priorities – so when we looked at the forecast for our operations, it was the best decision to cease,” she said.
Reid said while there were other organizations working with AIDS awareness, none of them had a private sector mandate – neither the Barbados Employers’ Confederation, HIV/AIDS Commission nor the Ministry of Labour
“Our exit is very disappointing because we spent the last number of years trying to make the business case for why they needed to have an HIV response.
“For the most part, we have been making successful strides in getting that message across and getting enterprises to act in a more corporately responsible way. So it’s tragic that other companies, who would have wanted to participate but couldn’t do it until 2013, we cannot be there to service them.
“Our exit will leave a large section of the work space underserved,” she said.
Stoute said no other agency provided their kind of services and their closure could even impact the bottom line by reducing productivity through illness and employees not understanding how to interact with infected colleagues.
Reid said they had trained many individuals in their respective companies to be champions, so there was still hope.
As for staff, the secretariat operated with a programme officer, administrative assistant and Reid. She said they were still dedicated to the cause and hoped to continue working in AIDS research and advocacy.
In remembering some of the foundation’s achievements, Reid told the SUNDAY SUN she was most proud of their human rights advocacy after launching their charter last year, and their work looking at getting health and life insurance for those infected with HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean region.
The foundation is convening a general meeting on September 19 at the Accra Beach Hotel for all stakeholders to answer any questions.