Community Nutrition Officer with the HIV/AIDS Food Bank, Donna Barker, presenting the Food Bank??Volunteer Award to Cheston Barker.??

The National HIV/AIDS Hotline and the National HIV/AIDS Food bank are integral to the work of the Ministry of Health.

Minister of Health, Donville Inniss made this clear last Saturday, as he addressed the15th Annual HIV/AIDS Volunteers’ Awards Ceremony, at the Accra Beach Resort, Rockley, Christ Church.

"The Ministry sees the hotline as an important component of its network in disseminating vital messages on prevention, care, support and treatment, as well as a source of information on the wide range of services that connects them with available resources on the reduction of the impact of HIV/AIDS," he said.

Tracing the history of the hotline, Mr. Inniss added: "Volunteerism within the HIV/AIDS programme of the Ministry of Health started from 1990, with the formation of the National HIV/AIDS Hotline. The hotline began receiving calls on Monday, August 13, 1990, with 33 volunteers trained through the National Advisory Committee on AIDS."

He explained: "The hotline volunteers play a very critical role in providing clear, simple and accurate information on HIV & STIs to the general public; thus clarifying any misconceptions on HIV/AIDS."??

This is done through a telephone information gathering and referral service.?? Volunteers are trained to uphold the firm principles of confidentiality and callers remain anonymous to the hotliners.

The system is manned by 38 trained volunteers, and is open for five hours daily, between the hours of 5:00 – 10:00 p.m., Monday to Friday. During the day, it is serviced by the Hotline Manager.

Earlier this year the hotline was moved to upgraded facilities at the Vashti Inniss Empowerment Centre at Ladymeade Gardens.

Food bank volunteers, on the other hand, have been giving of their time and energy from 2007.?? Minister Inniss, noted, however, that these individuals, like those at the hotline, were critical to the smooth functioning of the Food Bank.

He maintained: "They sacrifice their time and incur expenses to render assistance to the HIV/AIDS Food Bank, by providing services in packing and distribution of hampers, as well as receiving donations. They also assist the Food Bank Manager with data collection, nutrition assessment, outdoor activities and anything that is required by them."

According to the Health Minister, with the rapid increase in the number of clients utilising the services at the Food Bank, a corresponding increase in the number of volunteers was seen this year. This saw assistance coming from a number of temporary volunteers from the Barbados Community College, the University of the West Indies’ HIV/AIDS Response Programme, as well as independent local and foreign students.

"Without them the Food Bank Manager could not have achieved so much in 2009," Mr. Inniss revealed.

He further disclosed that the Food Bank had benefited this year from a special humanitarian effort entitled the Love Campaign: The initiative. It was the brainchild of Miss Leah Marville, now Miss Barbados World 2009.

According to the Health Minister, through this venture, Miss Marville further sensitised Barbadians about the need to donate to the Food Bank and inspired more individuals to volunteer their time and effort.??

He explained: "As a consequence of her initiative, with the use of the television ads which displayed a spirit of humanitarianism through songs and spoken words, a considerable amount of food was donated to the food bank."

The Health Minister encouraged Barbadians not to let Ms. Marville’s campaign die. He stressed, "During the Love campaign we received an increase in calls about volunteering."

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