Tuesday, July 20, 2010

HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean: Haiti (Pt 1)

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following blog is the second of a four-part series on HIV/AIDS and the Caribbean. Look for Part 3 of 4 in August 2010.

Growing up a Guyanese-American girl in the predominately West Indian neighborhood of Flatbush in Brooklyn, NY, I’ve run the streets with people from all over the Caribbean. But Haitians and Haitian-Americans have always had a special place in my circle of friends. Must be all those cute Ayisyen dudes I’ve dated throughout the years, ;-)

But I remember a time when being Haitian or of Haitian decent was not a thing to be proud of. When kids would make fun of, be rude to, or just straight up mean to anyone claiming Haiti as their homeland. Though there were a few reasons why this happened, predominant among them was the mistakenly believed link between Haiti and the emergence of the HIV virus.

When the virus hit Haiti, it hit hard. And as the rate of infection rose on the island nation, many Haitian immigrants to the United States were found to be carrying the HIV virus as well. By 1983 the Centers for Disease Control had officially listed ‘Haitian entrants to the United States’ as ‘persons who may be considered at increased risk of AIDS’.① This statement decimated the Haitian tourism industry and created a climate of discrimination, stigma and isolation towards Haitians and Haitian-Americans.

Ever since then, the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Haiti has been one of the most severe in the Caribbean. Before the earthquake that devastated the country this past January, the adult HIV prevalence rate was estimated at 2.2%. An estimated 120,000 people were living with the virus (53% of whom were women). And those living with HIV in Haiti accounted for 47% of all people living with HIV in the Caribbean.②

The virus was running rampant throughout the Haitian community. But thanks to the coordinated response of local and international doctors, nurses, community workers, public health experts, and organizations the tide was beginning to turn. The work of organizations like Partners in Heath and the Group for the Study of Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections (GHESKIO), the HIV infection rate had started to come down. ③ These groups, and others, were able to:

1. Educate the population on safe sex practices
2. Get antiretroviral drugs into the hands of 41% of the infected population
3. Prevent mother-child transmission of the virus by 22%④

And though there was still much to be done to contain the disease, things were moving forward.

Then the earthquake hit...

Alysia Christiani

1 MMWR Weekly (1983) 'Current trends prevention of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS): Report of Inter-Agency Recommendations', March 4, 32(8);101-3
2 UNAIDS 2010 Helping Haiti Rebuild Its AIDS Response
3 UNAIDS 2008 repot on the Global AIDS Epidemic Helping Haiti Rebuild Its AIDS Response
4 UNAIDS 2010 Helping Haiti Rebuild Its AIDS Response

To Be Continued Thursday, July 22...

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