Conversations with the Living: The Haitian AIDS Crisis

The official blog of Conversations with the Living

Archive for the ‘Haitian Earthquake 2010’ Category

CONVERSATIONS WITH KAY ANGEL

leave a comment »

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

Advertisements

A New Leader Ready to Serve the People of Haiti?

leave a comment »

I recently had a phone call with Johnson, one of our scouts on the ground in Haiti. He blared the music of Michel ”Sweet Micky” Martelly over the phone and sang along proclaiming, “I love this music, and everyone is loving this music”. It seems many people in his Carrefour neighborhood are playing the music of “Sweet Micky” these days – but what of Martelly’s inclusion in the upcoming runoff election?

The decision to reverse the results of the candidates included in the upcoming runoff election was announced a few weeks ago after the Organisation of American States (OAS) found the original election results to be fraudulent, favoring Jude Celestin of the INITE (Unity) Party, who was supported in his campaign by current President Rene Preval.

The runoff will now include Mirlande Manigat of the Rally of Progressive National Democrats (RDNP) Party, and Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly. The runoff has been rescheduled for March 20 and people are asking the same question that was posed months ago – should there be new elections altogether?

The decision to reverse the results of the first round polls was met with relative calm on the streets, but the question of legitimacy regarding the initial elections and the upcoming runoff elections is a major topic of conversation among human rights advocates, political analysts and Haitian citizens alike. Many displaced Haitians and registered voters were unable to cast their ballots, and several candidates, even entire parties, were excluded from running in the race, including the Fanmi Lavalas party, a political party with major popular support in Haiti.  Even though the argument against the exclusionary elections was made prior to the initial elections, US and foreign governments supported the Haitian Electoral Council’s flawed process.

Now with the OAS results, although not accepted by the Haiti’s Provi­sional Electoral Council (CEP), the US and the United Nations (UN) welcome the decision and hope that Celestin’s exclusion will “clear the way for a more stable political climate and allow international aid efforts to be stepped up”, however many question the intentions of the US and foreign governments and criticize their interference both before and after the elections. Human rights groups believe that the US government used its tremendous power and influence to determine the outcome of the first round of elections and “denied Haitians the opportunity to express their will.” One can’t help but ask how western economic interests played into the support of the initial elections, how they are currently manipulating Haitian politics, and why the typical pattern of exploitation has in no way ceased since the earthquake of January 12, 2010.

The US has always used its influence as a powerful nation to get what it wants from the poorest countries in the world. Although the election results were in question, the final decision to exclude Celestin was forced upon Haiti, “literally under the threat of starvation.” The US has yet to manage distribution of promised aid to the country since the devastating earthquake and is using delivery of this aid and continued support to even further impose their will over the people in their struggle for democracy.

Even with Celestin excluded, most people are still missing the point – the elections were a fraud from the beginning. Many argue that the two candidates now participating in the runoff do not represent the people, and most would argue that neither does Celestin.

Haiti is entangled in an intense political crisis and Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Washington-based Center for Economic Policy and Research believes, “This attempt to impose an illegitimate government on Haiti will backfire.” Haitian civil society groups, political parties, the Congressional Black Caucus and several U.S. human rights groups are calling for new, inclusive elections as the only practical solution to Haiti’s election crisis.

To make matters more complicated, the runoff elections are following the controversial return of previous president and dictator, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier on January 16th, who has run into corruption and human rights charges. And more recently news that the Council of Ministers has agreed to issue a diplomatic passport to former President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has been in exile in South Africa for almost seven years, following a 2004 US backed coup d’état has stirred up further controversy. Both men bring with them a history tainted with decades of political instability, civil unrest and corruption.

Aristide still has a lot of popular support, as he was Haiti’s first democratically elected leader, and said recently that he is ready to return to his homeland “today, tomorrow, at any time”, but has yet to return.  Some fear his return could upset an already confused presidential and legislative elections process.

Preval’s mandate has formally ended, but parliament has approved his stay until May 14th so he can hand over to an elected successor.

The innumerable issues present both before and after the January earthquake only fuel the tensions surrounding Haiti’s upcoming runoff elections. Democracy in Haiti has a long way to go, and her most vulnerable and under-represented citizens continue to hope that what will come of this lengthily and flawed “democratic” process is a new leader ready to serve the people of Haiti, but most, quite justifiably, have their doubts.

– LC

January 12th – 1 Year Later

leave a comment »

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

Increasing Threat of HIV in Haiti

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

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

with one comment

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

IDPs, NGOs and Human Rights

leave a comment »

Mark Schuller, a professor of African American Studies and Anthropology at York College, the City University of New York, and tireless advocate for Haitian human rights recently published the report Unstable Foundations: Impact of NGOs on Human Rights for Port-au-Prince’s Internally Displaced People, which discusses the consequences of NGO involvement in the displacement camps in Haiti.

Schuller’s research on the ground in Haiti along with eight Haitian University students and a colleague at the Faculté d’Ethnologie, Université d’État d’Haïti was conducted over a six-week period. “Quantitative and qualitative surveys were taken in three inter-related areas: conditions and services within the camps, residents’ level of understanding and involvement in the camp committees, and interviews with committee representatives.”

Results show once again that the exclusion of Haiti’s people in decisions made regarding their livelihoods and rights as citizens does very little to change the urgent situation in Haiti, and that NGO relationships with Haitians have numerous unintended negative impacts.

“Despite the fact that many NGOs empower camp committees to select recipients and distribute aid — most notably food, until the government stopped general distribution in April — most official committees do not involve the population. Less than a third of people living in camps are aware of the strategy or even the name of the committees. Two-thirds of members are men, despite well-documented concerns about gender-based violence. While to most NGOs managing camps or offering services these camps represent their “local participation,” it is clear that the present structure leaves much to be desired”.

Schuller outlines specific policy recommendations, noting that “It is not too late to rebuild on solid foundations”, but the foundations are still unstable and recovery is being hindered by the slow delivery of promised aid.

Below is a link to the report summary published in the Huffington Post and a PDF download of the full report.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-schuller/unstable-foundations-huma_b_749924.html

http://ijdh.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Report-unstable-foundations-final-2.pd