Activists Call for HIV/AIDS Relief for Haiti

By Jamilah King Apr 01, 2010

While over 100 countries and international aid organizations pledged $10 billion to Haitian reconstruction yesterday, New York City religious and health groups teamed up with Haitian AIDS activists to call attention to what they’re calling the "failure" of AIDS disaster relief. At least 100 people gathered for a demonstration outside yesterday’s high level UN meeting to call for expanded access to antiretroviral medications and for the United Nations and USAID to make good on their promises. Shortly after January’s devastating earthquake, the UN released a report acknowledging that the country’s AIDS health care infrastructure was "under serious threat." The report identified seven priority areas, including protecting the displaced from the disease and revitalizing HIV prevention programs. In February, the UN announced that nearly half off their $1.44 billion humanitarian appeal had been funded. Yet it’s unclear how much, if any, of those funds were slated to go directly to HIV/AIDS prevention programs. Activists are now calling to hold international aid organizations accountable. “The United Nations and USAID have been promising a real plan to provide desperately needed medical care to people with HIV since the relief efforts began. We can no longer tolerate their inaction,” said Esther Boucicault in a press release, president of PHAP+, the Haitian group spearheading the protest. Even before the quake, the country had been waging a fierce battle against the disease. According to some recent estimates, there are 120,000 Haitians living with HIV/AIDS. In 2005 the national HIV rate for adults aged 15 to 49 was 3.8 percent, but aggressive public education campaigns and expanded the use of AIDS drugs had cut that number down to 2.2 percent. Still, Haiti’s HIV infection rate is among the the highest in the Caribbean. Now, in a post-earthquake country with a nearly non-existent health care infrastructure, more people are at risk and those already living with the disease face going without treatment for the foreseeable future. According to activists, the majority of the country’s AIDS treatment facilities have been destroyed and more than 60 percent of Haitians who had been receiving AIDS-related care no longer have access to the same treatments. Missing doses of antiretroviral medications can cause blood levels of the virus to rapidly increase and can result in treatment resistance. With more than one million of the country’s residents currently living in tent cities, sexual violence and exploitation also threaten to increase infection rates. Amnesty International recently called the problem of sexual violence "widespread." Photo credit: The Epoch Times