SASHA Tinnoe came to Australia from Zimbabwe, a country where people living with HIV face extreme discrimination and stigma.

Sasha knew she wanted to make a change for the better for all the people around the world living with HIV so she got in touch with some HIV organisations in New South Wales and eventually ended up at ACON, one of the state’s LGBTI health promotion organisations whose central focus is on HIV/AIDS.

“The first thing I did with ACON was I went and visited the office and I enjoyed, the staff are amazing. People are so helpful,” she said.

For the third year in a row, Sasha will be front and centre at the Ending HIV Red Ribbon Appeal in honour of World AIDS Day.

Volunteers hit the streets on December 1 and 2 to sell the iconic red ribbon merchandise with proceeds going to stamping out HIV in NSW.

“I think it is important to volunteer so that other people can see even if you don’t have HIV you’ve got a heart to want to make a change,” Sasha said.

“It’s important to come out and help others.”

People interested in helping out can either volunteer to sell ribbons in Sydney or regional NSW, donate money or offer to sell the ribbons at their work or school.

The Ending HIV initiative aims to educate gay men – the population group in NSW most at risk from HIV – about the real possibility that HIV transmission in the state could be virtually eliminated by 2020 as a result of advances in testing technologies, HIV treatments and prevention strategies.

The Red Ribbon Appeal will help in eliminating new HIV transmissions by 2020 among men who have sex with men by helping them test often, treat early and stay safe.

That will be achieved by promoting education campaigns, operating HIV and STI testing facilities, running gay health workshops, providing a range of support services and distributing hundreds of thousands of free condoms every year throughout NSW.

The strategy is working; rapid testing facilities are being used more by gay men, but with more than 250,000 gay men living in NSW, ACON needs to keep working hard to reach the 2020 target.

Along with preventing new HIV transmissions money from Red Ribbon Appeal goes towards supporting the more than 12,000 people currently living with HIV in NSW.

Information for people newly diagnosed with HIV, community development activities and meal services attract little to no government funding, so money raised from the Red Ribbon Appeal is crucial to keeping those vital services going.

For Sasha, not only is it her personal mission to help end stigma and discrimination for people living with HIV, but also to help educate people about the Red Ribbon Appeal and why it’s so important to volunteer.

“People drop by and ask us why we’re doing it and you explain it’s because you want to help other people,” she said.

“I remember years ago when someone was diagnosed with HIV, they would often die really soon after finding out. And that was hard.

“It comes from the heart and it’s fun volunteering, we get to meet a lot of people, and they get to understand why you’re doing it.

“People should come out and enjoy that moment.”

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