Conversations with the Living: The Haitian AIDS Crisis

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CONVERSATIONS WITH KAY ANGEL

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Conversations With the Living recently made contact with Lia Van de Donk, the director of Kay Angel orphanage in Jacmel, Haiti, which provides a home, education and support for children in need and those infected or affected by HIV/AIDS.

After a very positive conversation with Lia regarding her work at Kay Angel and the mission and purpose of our film, it was clear that Kay Angel’s everyday work to provide HIV-positive and orphaned children in need, access to life saving medication, housing, education and support aligned with the mission of Conversations With the Living and the message of our film.

We have been in contact with Lia since our first discussion in order to stay updated on the progress at Kay Angel, as well as to coordinate a visit upon our return to Haiti, in order to document the incredible work being done to improve the lives of these children.

We are inspired by the work of Kay Angel and their willingness to take on the challenge of caring for this often forgotten demographic, and the Conversations With the Living team wants to introduce those who support this project and the work being done to help children affected by and infected with HIV/AIDS to Kay Angel.

The Story of Kay Angel

Kay Angel, Creole for Angel House, opened its doors in 2007 and is currently home to 12 children; 5 are HIV+ and all are lucky to be alive.

Their first home was rented for one year in Jacmel before they moved to St. Helene, another neighborhood in Jacmel. In St. Helene the children of school age attended either the local kindergarten, a school for the handicapped or were taught by a private teacher at the orphanage. When the January 12th earthquake destroyed the children’s schools and the orphanage, Lia and the children lived in the streets for about 2 weeks, and then in tents for 15 months.  On April 1st of this year Kay Angel was able to rent a temporary home in Zorange for 1 year, while construction of their permanent home is being completed.

Today, they are in the process of building their permanent home on a piece of land named Sacrifice, which they were able to buy this past year with money raised through individual donations from family and friends and outreach on their two dedicated blogs in the United States and Holland, Lia’s native country.

We emphasize home, because Lia, who lives with the children along with her husband, makes sure that the daily needs of the children are met and that a family environment is provided, where the children are loved, accepted and supported. Along with a small local staff, they make sure that the children are fed, attend school and that their medications are measured and administered twice a day.

The children that are HIV-positive are in the Aids program of USAID at the local hospital St. Michel, which is a free program that includes a monthly examination by the doctor, Dr Raphael, and a monthly supply of ARV meds. When asked about how their home manages to function and provide resources year round, Lia shared that aside from individual donations, organizations like USAID have been instrumental in providing the children’s health care needs. Without this program and the free medical supplies that it donates, it would be extremely difficult to care for the children that are HIV+, due to the tremendous expense of ARV medication. Additionally, Kay Angel has its own paid Haitian pediatrician on staff that visits Kay Angel once a month to consult the children, and subscribe additional medication or vitamin and protein supplements as needed, which are paid for by Kay Angel.

Some help in the form of rice, cooking oil and beans comes monthly from the World Food Programme (WFP), and any additional nutritional needs are met through purchases from local markets and vendors.

After a long struggle to find adequate schools for the children, especially those that are HIV-positive, Lia was able to enroll the children in SOS Enfants in Cyvadier, with the exception of one child who attends PAZAPA, a school for handicapped and special needs children located in town. The children have adjusted extraordinarily well to the school environment and have received good marks. The children’s performance in school has been a great accomplishment and source of excitement, due to the fact that prior to coming to Kay Angel, the children had not been afforded the opportunity to attend school.

The majority of education in Haiti is privatized, therefore families or organizations supporting children, must pay to send their children to school. With 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty, providing children with an education often means the family goes without other basic necessities or the children are simply not educated.

The children living at Kay Angel are the fortunate. The children wake up everyday in a loving environment, where their mental and physical well-being are the priority, and the benefits of this environment provide an example of what is possible if people focus on the needs in the communities they serve and advocate for substantial change and real solutions.

There were an estimated 380,000 orphans before the earthquake, as many as 225,000 children living as retaveks (child slaves), and approximately 150,000 orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

Kay Angel works with these children, not only because there is a need, but also because they have seen through their own work that children provided the proper resources and support can live happy and healthy lives. The children they care for are proof-positive of what is possible given compassion and cooperation efforts, and they are an example of what is working in Haiti.

Both Kay Angel and Conversations With the Living are focused on HIV-positive orphans and the importance of recognizing the effort, organization, continued funding, and unerring dedication required to give these children a chance for survival and a future where they can be engaged and accepted in their communities. Kay Angel is a place where the methods used on the ground in Haiti and within the Haitian community shed light on the small, yet existing network of people dedicated to creating a better life and future for Haiti and her children.

While, we prepare to return to Haiti, Lia and her staff work daily, around the clock, juggling time taking care of the children’s needs and the construction of the new orphanage. We look forward to sharing their continued progress with you and to introducing you to some of the amazing children at Kay Angel.

– Leigh E. Carlson

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

Question of the Day

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Is it good enough for the people of Haiti for it to be “built back better” as the Western Hemisphere’s center of cheap, underpaid and overworked labor?

Rebuilding Haiti – an environmental plan

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There was an interesting interview/article in the Huffington Post recently. While the environmental devastation in Haiti is old, but no less tragic, news, it is always interesting to hear how different groups intend on rebuilding the country’s deforested and soil-depleted countryside. According to the article

Haiti is famous around the world primarily for its problems, one being advanced ecological destruction. However, as with its other problems, citizens — with international friends and the occasional help of the government — are working to turn this around and create a healthy environment.

Aldrin Calixte tells of the social, economic, and political causes of the environmental crisis and what is being done to create a different future. One of Haiti’s principal environmental advocates, Aldrin is an agronomist who specializes in natural resource management. He is also Executive Secretary of Haiti Survie [Haiti Survive], an organization which ties broad awareness-raising with citizen action. Haiti Survie believes that the struggle to defend the environment should be an active part of the life of every human being. For more information, see www.haitisurvie.org.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/beverly-bell/an-alternative-environmen_b_745191.html

Written by conversationswiththeliving

October 8, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Haiti Makes Esquire

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Below please find a link to a preview of the latest issue of Esquire that hits the newsstands next week. Included in this issue is a preview of an interview with Bill Clinton where he pledges to commit the next three years to Haiti and its rebuild. Also in there are some words from Paul Farmer on the state of Haitian health care. Check it out and expect a feature length post here when the issue hits the stands.

Haiti Makes Esquire

Gede Greg C.

UN Chief Calls For More Aid at G20 Summit

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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon recently called on the Group of 20 rich and developing nations, as well as the world superpowers, to continue to pump aid to struggling countries. He admits that only about 1% of the $5.3 billion in aid pledged to Haiti has been delivered; about $40 million from Brazil, but that the world needs to focus on nations like Haiti to create jobs, promote agriculture, build public health systems and shift to clean energy sources. He also promised that the U.N will make a concerted effort to streamline and increase the effectiveness of aid delivery in Haiti.

While this sounds good and noble, one must view this announcement with guarded expectations. Relief efforts of this scale are complex by design. What’s important is that the world is still very much focused on Haiti and it’s situation, and at least on the surface, appears to be working on creating practical solutions to the after effects of the January 12th earthquake.

UN Chief Calls For More Aid At G20 Summit

Gede Greg C.