Conversations with the Living: The Haitian AIDS Crisis

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World AIDS Day and Conversations With the Living

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WORLD AIDS DAY 2011

Today is World AIDS Day. Since 1988 World AIDS Day has been held on December 1st and provides the opportunity for people around the world to unite in the fight against HIV, offer support to those affected and infected with HIV, and honor the lives of those who have died as a result of the virus.

World AIDS Day is one day, every year, dedicated to raising money, fighting prejudice, increasing awareness, improving education and helping people understand the facts surrounding HIV/AIDS globally. World AIDS Day is a way to remind people that AIDS is still a serious issue affecting millions of people each year. Although numerous organizations and activists work everyday to address the issue of HIV/AIDS, the global community needs to remember the importance of raising awareness of HIV year round. The global crisis goes relatively unnoticed in the mainstream media, and oftentimes, unless directly affected, people tend to know very little about HIV/AIDS in their own communities, cities, and countries. World AIDS day is an opportunity to learn facts about HIV and use that knowledge to help in your community.

Even as scientific advances are made in HIV treatment, many people still go without access to resources and struggle with properly educating people about the virus, which plays a large role in reducing infection rates and fighting the discrimination and stigma often attached to the virus.

There are currently 33 million people living with HIV. This year 1.8 million HIV-positive persons died of Aids-related-illnesses and as many as 2.7 million were infected, that is over seven thousand people a day. HIV is a threat to men, women and children on all continents around the world.

GETTING TO ZERO

This year’s World AIDS Day theme is Getting to Zero, which focuses on three targets, Zero new HIV infections, Zero discrimination, and Zero AIDS-related deaths. This is the goal of all goals. This is a call to arms, the very point of the global fight against HIV. There is a long way to go, but by focusing on reducing infection, stigma and deaths, given the progress made within populations with access to live saving medications and nutrition, this is a goal that cultivates great hope and aims to prove what can be accomplished with compassion and cooperation efforts.

Conversations With the Living is a documentary film that focuses on this hope and the amazing progress made when there is access to resources.

CONVERSATIONS WITH THE LIVING & HIV

Conversations With the Living is a feature length documentary that focuses on HIV-positive orphans and the daily lives of these children. In the process, the film highlights the network dedicated to bringing HIV-positive orphans the medication, food, housing, education, and emotional support that keeps them alive. We will trace the path of that medication from the child through the entire network that made it possible, showing the dedicated individuals that work tirelessly every day, grinding through routine and unforeseen challenges and providing real solutions to Haiti’s battle against HIV. It takes effort, organization, continued funding, and unerring dedication on the part of countless people to give these children a chance for survival and a future where they can be engaged and accepted in their communities.

As government agencies and aid organizations tighten their belts due to the struggling economy; HIV, and the core issues that make it difficult to combat, like poverty, malnourishment, and lack of access to medication, are tightening their grip on the most vulnerable populations. But, there are people doing incredible work, providing both access and support to those affected by and infected with HIV in Haiti, and we are telling their story.

The ultimate goal of Conversations with the Living is to draw attention to HIV/AIDS in the developing world and continue to raise awareness of the need to support AIDS organizations around the world. We are determined to show that HIV progress does not happen by accident and that the network of caregivers and activists that work together to provide for these children is intricate and delicate.

This network provides real hope for the future of these children and represents what is positive and possible. The positive strides made against the disease in countries like Haiti and the people who make it possible must not only be recognized, but also supported. Raising and maintaining awareness about the efforts of dedicated HIV workers must happen and their work must be expanded upon.

HIV & HAITI

In Haiti, an estimated 40,000 people die of AIDS every year. These are grim numbers when considering the size of the country, which is roughly the size of Maryland. When taking into account that a large percentage of at-risk Haitians who do not get tested due to access and fear of social stigma, experts believe the national statistic is much higher than recorded; some believe as high as 11%.Currently one in twenty Haitians is infected with HIV/AIDS and there are over 150,000 AIDS orphan.

No one should ever die of a treatable disease. Haiti’s struggle with AIDS and the elements of history that have contributed to its prevalence, still exist and continue to exacerbate the issue. The failure to provide access and address the societal issues surrounding HIV in Haiti only maintains and perpetuates a system that produces more death, deprivation, and disease.

For people living in developed countries around the world, HIV has become a manageable disease, however the majority of the world’s people living in the developing world are not afforded that luxury. Their children are the next generation of survivors, advocates and activists, and they are proof positive of what is possible given the resources and support.

When the HIV-positive are provided the proper resources in Haiti, they are happy, healthy and hopeful. Lives are being saved and people need to know what is working in Haiti and what needs to be done to maintain this work and broaden its reach. 

There is a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education and your participation is needed, not just today, but everyday.

– Leigh E. Carlson

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January 12th – 1 Year Later

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So, it’s been almost one full year since the cataclysmic earthquake that devastated Port Au Prince and it’s outlying areas. Haiti’s already unstable infrastructure and volatile political structure took a violent  hit; one that may potentially take another century to fully recover from.

In the quake’s aftermath we saw the international community stand up in a show of solidarity; vowing to help this unfortunate island state to rebuild. Countries all over the world pledged billions of dollars and endless amounts of manpower to assist in recovery.

Out of the spotlight celebrities and politicos worldwide dusted off their camouflage and khakis, without a doubt tweaking their press conference speeches on chartered Gulf stream jet rides to the Dominican Republic, as they prepped for the cameras documenting their forays across the St. Domingue/Ayiti border.

Hell, we even had Haitian politicians finally fessing up and promising to put aside their petty banana republic ideological differences and do what’s best for the country.

In the US, Haitian Americans and ex-pats united in a way that hadn’t been seen since the days of the 4 H’s in the 1980’s. Haitian groups were organizing, planning, plotting, and pontificating at an insane rate; guided by the simple premise of rebuilding this once proud nation into the land that L’Ouverture and Dessalines would have envisioned. There were fund raisers, records, and conversations with the UN. We even united Bubba and Dubya!

Haiti was finally on the map, and for those of us that lost family and possessions on January 12, 2011, there was hope. Then a funny thing happened over the next year.

Absolutely nothing.

Gede Greg Cee

A New Year in Haiti?

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As 2011 approaches, the hopes of many Haitian’s remain alive even as their nation’s future hangs in the balance. Haiti’s current condition can make a vision for improvement difficult to believe in and embrace, but the possibilities in Haiti are as endless as the critical issues currently paralyzing the nation and those that have plagued it for centuries.

Haiti’s self-sufficiency lies in the ability of the population to be a part of helping rebuild and maintain the nation. Out of Haiti’s nearly 9 million people, over 3,600,000 are under the age of 15. These children must be given a chance at a proper education and employment, a chance at life. If those who now barely survive are given the opportunity to thrive, they can make Haiti a stronger nation; change their own lives and their country.

The youth I’ve spoken to want the opportunity to better themselves in order to give back to their country, create possibilities for the next generation and give back to their parents who have struggled to feed, clothe, educate and house them. Without the resources and opportunity this generation and the next will continue to face decades of despair and suffering.

The stories of Haiti’s youth are heartbreaking. Some are full of hope, others void of any hope or expectation.

Our team at Conversations With the Living corresponds with our young friends in Haiti regularly. An e-mail message sent the other day from Carrefour read –

” The candle is lighting on both ends in Haiti. I hope they give the people what they want. Everything is going really bad at this time: the disease, the elections, the rioting, and still no funds to live. I had never thought I would live such moments in my life. I ate something yesterday morning, but nothing else until now and it’s terrible. I’m ashamed to tell you about it, but you must know how we live here.”

When we met him he was full of dreams he is beginning to believe are unattainable. His life to date has been unimaginably difficult, but his correspondence has never before been so bleak.

We met him and his two friends in Port-au-Prince over a year ago while filming our documentary Conversations With the Living: Globalization and the Haitian AIDS Crisis. They approached us with confidence, asking simply, “What is your business in Haiti? Do you need translators? We would like to be with you while you are here.” We in fact needed translators, as our arrangements had fallen through, and they were excited to help. We were grateful to have them and learned a lot, very quickly, about what it is like to grow up in Haiti. Life was difficult for these young men at the time, but even more so now.

In the not so distant past, even while living in poverty with his mother and three siblings, he was able to help support his family through odd jobs and translating for visitors to Haiti, but he wanted to do more with his gifts. He was sure of his talents and his ability to one day attend a University, become a doctor and help his people. Although education is privatized he and his family managed to afford him the education that should be considered a human right of all children in Haiti.

He is a talented writer, excellent at math and science, speaks Creole, French, Spanish and English, and yet is left believing he has nowhere to go.

Each time I speak to him he asks, “Will I ever realize my dreams? There is nothing here. There is nothing for the youth in Haiti. We need to hear good things to hope we have a chance to get out of misery.”

After a long phone call, his voice changes from a saddened whisper to a hopeful tone, because he is reminded that people think about him and believe in him; that he has the tools to be a force for good if given the opportunity. So he holds on and hopes for change. Armed with the knowledge that the process will not be easy or fast.

The relentless spirit of the Haitian people, although battered, is a shining example of survival amongst the most extreme hardships. Amongst the crisis, the Haitian people should be recognized for their strength and unwavering patience after holding on for what seems like forever.

The young generation maintains hope while broken promises, centuries of systematic violence and decades of instability are their history and their reality. Although many Haitians are organizing, mobilizing their efforts to find justice in Haiti and undertaking peaceful protests across the country, often long-term organized movements and peaceful protests, by Haitians for Haitians, are overlooked, while violent protests, torching of government buildings and opposition to UN occupation make the headlines.

There is no shortage of stones to throw, quite literally, as they are still surrounded by the rubble of January’s disaster and armed with the experience to know that change will only come to Haiti if the majority is included. This is something they have always had to fight for; today, tomorrow and into the New Year this fight will continue.

People revolt when they have nothing left to lose.

“ Nothing to lose but their chains, they have a world or win” – Marx

Will 2011 be a New Year? or will it be more of the same? Will those with the power to implement the necessary changes do what they must or what they have always done?

– LC

Increasing Threat of HIV in Haiti

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Wednesday, December 1st was World AIDS Day. Tomorrow is Wednesday, December 8th. Based on current figures, within the past week an estimated 35,000 people have died of AIDS-related-illnesses globally.

World AIDS Day is one day, every year, dedicated to raising money, fighting prejudice, increasing awareness, improving education and helping people understand the facts surrounding HIV/AIDS globally. World AIDS Day is a way to remind people that AIDS is still a serious issue affecting millions of people each year. Although numerous organizations and activists work everyday to address the issue of HIV/AIDS, the global crisis goes relatively unnoticed in the mainstream media. Oftentimes, unless directly affected, people tend to know very little about HIV/AIDS in their own communities, cities, and countries.

Throughout the world as many as 2.6 million people will become infected with HIV within the next year, that is over seven thousand people a day. There are currently 33 million people living with HIV. Last year 1.8 million HIV-positive persons died of Aids-related-illnesses. HIV is a threat to men, women and children on all continents around the world.

This year’s World AIDS Day theme is Universal Access and Human Rights, a theme explored in the documentary film Conversations With the Living: Globalization and the Haitian AIDS Crisis, which explores the current HIV/AIDS crisis in Haiti and the history of the disease there. Prior to January’s earthquake organizations like Partner’s In Health (PIH), GHESKIO and UNAIDS were making positive strides and seeing progress amongst the affected population. Now, nearly a year later, some aid organizations have redirected funds to other important initiatives, and HIV, although there is certain risk of increased infections, has received very little attention. With the recent media attention paid to the cholera outbreak and the elections, it is important to also focus on the growing concern of health care workers and patients that the constant state of crisis in Haiti is sure to lead to an increase in HIV infections and deaths if prevention and treatment do not become a focus in Haiti’s recovery.

With access to proper medication, progress has been made. That’s the challenge; making progress in all regions affected and maintaining that progress has proven difficult when conditions are deplorable and a mere portion of people in desperate need of medication have access to antiretroviral treatment.

AIDS in Haiti is as destructive as any natural disaster and has infected as many as 5 million people, and killed over 1 million people in Haiti since the 1990s.

Prior to the earthquake:

• 40% of the Haitian population did not have access to primary health care.
• Haiti was ranked 146th out of 177 countries according to the United Nations Development
Programme Human Development Index with 76% of Haitian’s living on US$2 per day and 56% on
less that US$1 per day, significantly below the poverty line.
• 46% of the entire population was malnourished, a figure the Global Hunger Index notes as
“Alarming”, and this percentage has only increased since the deadly earthquake.
• The United Nations estimates 2% of Haitians are infected with HIV/AIDS, the highest rate in the
Western Hemisphere.

An estimated 40,000 people die of AIDS in Haiti every year; grim numbers when considering the size of the country, which is roughly the size of New York City. When taking into account that a large percentage of at-risk Haitians who do not get tested due to access and fear of social stigma, experts believe the national statistic is much higher than recorded; some believe as high as 11%.

No one should ever die of a treatable disease. Haiti’s struggles with AIDS and the elements of history that have contributed to its prevalence still exist and continue to exacerbate the issue. The failure to provide access and address the societal issues surrounding HIV in Haiti only maintains and perpetuates a system that produces more death, deprivation, and disease.

– LC

Constant State of Emergency

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Photo Courtesy of Bryan Fletchall

The people of Haiti are fighters. A glimpse into the history of this proud and spirited nation will reveal that even amongst the most intense suffering; Haitian people are proud of and embrace their heritage, their culture, and their country.

There are so many incredibly beautiful things about Haiti; there is so much good lost and forgotten amidst the tragedy. As so rightly stated by Haitian-American author, Edwidge Danticat, “I think Haiti is a place that suffers so much from neglect that people only want to hear about it when it’s at its extreme. And that’s what they end up knowing about it. “

The people of Haiti are beautiful, their roots run deep, and their telling story of strength and resilience is one that has been written out of the history books. Even as they exist is a constant state of emergency, historically underserved and under acknowledged, they continue to fight and hope for a better future for Haiti and her people. Haiti’s historical suffering bleeds into the present, an ever-gaping wound of injustice, making the inaction of both Haitian and foreign governments to the continued crisis unsurprising, as it is nothing short of dismal, if not criminal.

Amongst the flooded tent cities surrounded by rubble, the cholera crisis deepens, killing hundreds and infecting thousands. Haiti has long struggled with poverty and disease, both directly linked to the nation’s history of exploitation by foreign powers with sinister agendas; agendas that have claimed millions of lives for the sake of international interests.

Curable and Manageable Disease

Curable and manageable disease has killed millions of people in Haiti and other developing countries for decades, even while the medicines to treat the affected population are available. The affected populations’ inability to access these medications is a human rights violation of the most basic and harmful kind. International government policy has long dictated access to these medications and a major component in facilitating their effective use – proper nourishment, i.e. food and water.

Impoverished governments unable to afford medications and trade agreements that have controlled the production, distribution and affordability of food and medicine have put Haiti and other developing countries in a constant state of emergency, because they have not had the opportunity to even build, let alone maintain a proper health care, industrial or agricultural infrastructure.

The current cholera epidemic in Haiti is another hurdle amongst a series of obstacles in a nation of fighters. The struggle to combat cholera is all too familiar, as Haiti has battled high infection rates of malaria, hepatitis, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS in the past and continues to in the present. Money and bureaucracy have always managed to hinder access to life-saving medicine, and as a result lives continue to be lost.

With limited access the major factor in determining the welfare of millions in mind, the following section discusses a pending trade agreement between the European Union and India that threatens to even further decrease access to medications in developing countries.

Pending Trade Agreement Possible Threat to HIV Sufferers

Patent laws have created a system where pharmaceutical companies stand to gain enormous profits from obtaining rights to create and distribute drugs at a price they see fit to gain profit with little regard for those who need access them. High demand equals expensive medicine and healthy profits for developers, while those who need the medications the most can’t acquire them. Simply, the pharmaceutical industry, without argument, control’s the fate of the world’s sick.

A possible international trade agreement between the European Union (EU) and India has medical professionals, activists, and patients concerned that millions of HIV sufferers in the developing world will be without the drugs they need to survive.

India’s generic pharmaceutical industry competes with these profit driven drug producers. Having been coined the “developing world’s pharmacy”, India, under its patent laws produces generic drugs that are distributed around the world, “bypassing a system designed to ensure drug developers are rewarded with a period of exclusive sales rights for new medicines.” As a result India has become the source of medicine for many of the world’s developing countries in order to treat the critically ill.

With access to generic drugs, the cost of treating patients with HIV has fallen from around $10,000 dollars a year in 2000 to just $70 a year today.

Not only has India’s generic production of medicines meant that its own population has benefitted from access to life-saving drugs, but as stated by Hans V. Hogerzeil, Director of Medicines Policy and Standards at the World Health Organization, “at least half of the five million Aids patients in Africa already on treatment rely on Indian generic medicines for their treatment.”

Although the European Union denies that the agreement will negatively impact India’s generic medicine industry, until a draft of the agreement is made available criticism and concern over its contents will continue from medical professionals, HIV/AIDS activists and patients.

Individuals infected with HIV/AIDS and other diseases can live long and productive lives if provided adequate nutrition and medicine. If treatment for the critically ill is made available and lives can been saved in developing countries where food, clean water and medical supplies are difficult to come by, a diagnosis once tantamount to a death sentence can be regarded as a manageable disease.

A link to the full article regarding the pending trade agreement is below.

Link: http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/2010/10/2010102920031160477.html

– LC

Hurricane Tomas and Decades of Failed Policy

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The people of Haiti are dealing with the impact of Hurricane Tomas currently threatening the Caribbean nation and endangering millions of Haitians living in IDP camps who are already at risk, living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions with no protection from environmental elements.

It is reported that heavy rain, flooding and landslides have killed at least seven people. Although it appears Haiti has avoided a “direct hit”, there is pending danger of flash floods and mudslides that could threaten residents of IDP camps.

The Haitian government and UN are asking millions of Haitians to leave their tents and tarps, which have been their only form of protection since the January 12th earthquake, however much like the issue of forced evictions, the Haitian government has no plan to house or provide aid to displaced individuals. People are hesitant to leave the camps, concerned that they will lose whatever form of home they have and their few remaining possessions.

With the problems facing Haiti, many of which are issues the nation has been facing for years, including the housing crisis, food crisis, health care crisis, and an endless list of social and economic challenges, Haitians now face another natural disaster. Even if rain and flooding is minimal there is fear that the efforts to contain the deadly cholera outbreak will be stifled, an outbreak that has claimed the lives of at least “442 people and sickened more than 6,700.”

Jean-Max Bellerive, Haiti’s prime minister states, “the government is doing all it can to provide aid and better shelter to the most vulnerable, but we simply do not have the resources to help many of them.”

Haitian youth, John-Smith Deshommes, is having a difficult time understanding why one obstacle after another is putting Haitians further and further into crisis.” Things have always been difficult, but I don’t know what is happening with Haiti. Eight months ago we met an earthquake that destroyed Haiti, some months later, we met cholera, and now we are facing hurricane Tomas. Everybody is being called to move; meanwhile, they have nowhere to go and nowhere to live. Why all these problems?”

Although the January 12th earthquake and Hurricane Tomas are natural disasters, many of the crises Haiti is dealing with are man-made disasters whose causes are rooted in decades of poverty, poor governance, and policies that have resulted in Haitians being vulnerable to these environmental threats.

Any real analysis of Haiti’s issues, including the earthquake that destroyed much of the nation, the recent cholera outbreak, the damage and deaths due to the storm, and problems with avoiding additional spread of disease across the country must include an objective examination of how policy is or is not safeguarding Haiti’s citizens. A thorough assessment of the policies implemented by the government of Haiti and the international community both before and after the earthquake offer some answers to the question – Why all these problems?

Flawed policies have plagued Haiti for decades, including trade policies resulting in mass deforestation, dependence on foreign food, medicine and additional imports, questionable distribution of international aid, debt to foreign governments, and illegal elections, all of which have minimized the ability to provide and maintain basic services.

One of the main reasons for the 2010 earthquake’s lethality was because of Haiti’s extreme poverty on every level. Governmental poverty created the weak physical infrastructure that crumbled during the earthquake, and the public health system that ceased to function in the immediate aftermath of the disaster because it was already crippled to begin with. The earthquake shattered much of Haiti, but the country was broken long before the disaster struck. How many lives could have been saved had the poverty not been so severe?

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, a known and indisputable fact. Every country’s ability to provide a sound infrastructure is directly linked to its economy. Haiti is poor, therefore its infrastructure is lacking in every arena and currently has no ability to protect its citizens from environmental threat. Haitians can and will rebuild, but the Haitian government and international governments must be held accountable for the flawed policies of the past and for the future of Haiti as a nation. Their policy decisions affect the lives of nearly seven million people, begging the question; why is it so difficult for those in a position to radically improve these lives to do what they know is right on behalf of the Haitian people?

-LC

You Be The Judge

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Below find the link to the U.N. Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti.

http://haitispecialenvoy.org/

It will be interesting to monitor the messaging on this site as the Haitian elections near.

Gede Greg C.