Conversations with the Living: The Haitian AIDS Crisis

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Archive for the ‘Haitian Relief efforts’ Category

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

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

IDPs, NGOs and Human Rights

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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

Question of the Day

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Has the world forgotten Haiti or are there just too many things going on in the world?

Written by conversationswiththeliving

October 10, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Forget political will. How can Haiti stand up to multi-national corporations?

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Last Friday Reuters published an interview with Edmond Mulet, who is Special Representative in Haiti for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, about the sputtering rebuilding efforts in Haiti. (http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N30131620.htm) Citing the now-slightly-annoying-and-growing-meaningless mantra of “build back better,” Mulet pointed out that “the international community, wary of chronic corruption, mismanagement and instability in Haiti, had actually contributed to weakening the government by often sidelining it from essential tasks.” At the heart of the international community’s misguided efforts was the fact that for decades, Haiti has been a “Republic of NGOs.” No argument there. He then went on to say that the earthquake and subsequent pledges (not so many people have paid up apparently) must be used to break the cycle of dependency on NGOs and to also break the cycle of corruption and inept governing. Still no argument there. Central to breaking the cycle is implementing “the rule of law.” He concludes: “You can bring money to rebuild the city, reconstruct, you can have infrastructure, build roads, airports, you can build all that, but that will not be sustainable in the mid-and long-term, if you don’t have rule of law here,” he said.

That is all well and good and very true. However, what he fails to mention is how difficult it is to implement all of the suggested reforms when very few parties – countries, NGOs, politicians – deal in good faith when it comes to Haiti. Where is the mention of the multi-national corporations jockeying for position in what is essentially a virgin market? You can see partial proof of them in the industrial tax-free zone factories, the newest of which is right by the airport and funded by George Soros. Where is the mention of governments needing to essentially “clear the field” and make Haiti safe for cheap slave labor? Where is the mention of the fact that Venezuela and the United States have the biggest international presence in Haiti (as can be seen by their embassies) and that for all of Hugo Chavez’s big socialist bluster and Washington’s bankrupt capitalist babble, all they want is for Haiti to fall under their sphere of influence so she can be a mini-factory for them.

Mulet says building back Haiti is a question of political will. Bah! How can Haiti stand up to self-interested countries and corporations?

Ask any Haitian: What’s in a word? Turns out a whole lot

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According to the Associated Press, Haiti is still waiting for the money pledged by the United States after the earthquake. Key word is pledged. Pledging (or promising) is a far cry from actually paying out. According to the AP:

Nearly nine months after the earthquake, more than a million Haitians still live on the streets between piles of rubble. One reason: Not a cent of the $1.15 billion the U.S. promised for rebuilding has arrived. (http://bit.ly/bGJhPF)

That is much needed money that would go into rubble clearing (most of it is still in the streets) and subsequent infrastructure rebuilding.

Well done, Obama Administration. What’s next? Cutting funding for PEPFAR? Oh wait, you did that already. Where’s Bush when you need him?

– ML

We’ve Been Forgotten

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Today I received a text message from a dear friend in Haiti. “Please message me and tell me how you are doing. When I have minutes at the Internet café, I will respond. I hope you haven’t forgotten about me. I am still writing my stories, I hope one day you will read them. I will translate them for you. I am writing a book about Haiti. We hope for a better Haiti. My family is ok. We are tired and I would like to find work. It is difficult to have no one to count on. We miss you. We love you. When will you return?”

I stared at my phone from my desk at work, and my only concern was to respond to him immediately. We message almost daily and I slowly feel him losing hope. It is not characteristic of him, or of the Haitian people to relinquish that hope, a driving force for survival and strength when circumstances are dire. As a Carrefour native, with very little before the earthquake, he now lives like 1.3 million others in Haiti – in a tent city – with his mother and two siblings. Because of the economic struggles of his family in Haiti and abroad in the US, he no longer receives any relief, and worries for his family and his country, still buried in rubble.

He says, ” I want to study to become a doctor so I can help my country. I want to write so I can share my stories with the world. I know I have talent, but will I ever see my dreams realized?”

I have to believe he will. He can certainly count on himself if no one else, but he wants to trust someone will help, something will change, that promises made to his country are not empty.  As an educated youth in Haiti, he is not the norm, but the exception, and he knows Haiti’s people and their youth deserve better. He is amongst the many that take nothing for granted and if provided the proper tools will build a future for themselves that now seems so far from reach. He feels forgotten, and I sense through his words, it is not about him alone, it is about his country  – he feels they have been forgotten. He wants to be counted on to do great things; he wants the chance to do great things.

Something happened when the earthquake hit Haiti – the world woke up, remembered that Haiti exists, and reacted in a combined effort of humanitarian relief and compassion. Amongst the devastation lingered hope that the response from the world would not cease, that that pre-existing need in Haiti would be recognized and the urgent need to rebuild would be the fuel to power a new and better Haiti. Eight months later, not much has changed, and in a tent, only 26, he writes a fictional story about a young man near his age in Haiti who through finding love and opportunity manages to fulfill his dreams. I can only imagine where his inspiration comes from in this fictional story, riddled with the realities of his life, his hope bleeds onto the page in a haunting tale fueled by his passion to succeed in life, and be of service to his people. He is telling his story, and he is holding on to that happy ending.

He is a representation of the struggle of so many; millions with the capacity and will to rebuild a better Haiti if afforded the opportunity, millions who feel they have been once again been forgotten by the international community.

Sitting at my desk at work I e-mailed him to let him know I have not forgotten about him. I tell him if he keeps working he will succeed, to not lose hope, and that I will do everything in my power to help him. Words I hope will comfort him and continue to motivate me to continue my work in Haiti and maintain the life changing relationships that I have created with the people and organizations that work everyday for a better Haiti.

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) has released a report of a human rights investigation into displacement camp conditions, titled We’ve Been For­got­ten”: Con­di­tions in Haiti’s Dis­place­ment Camps Eight Months After the Earth­quake, which outlines the desperation in Haiti’s camps and promotes a rights-based approach to relief and reconstruction.

The hope is that this report will give a voice to the people of Haiti, Victims of not only the earth quake, but of a history of instability who are facing grave conditions.  Discussing the lack of basic necessities and human rights, such as food, water, sanitation, housing, medical care, education,  and  employment, while providing an approach that maintains the ever-present spirit and integrity of the Haitian people  and their desire to assist in rebuilding their nation.

Presented by the University of San Francisco, the Institute for Justice and Democracy (IJDH), Bureau Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and Lamp  for Haiti , this document can be  read and downloaded at the link below.

http://ijdh.org/archives/14678