Conversations with the Living: The Haitian AIDS Crisis

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CWTL Production Diary: A Cholera Update

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Even for someone who has been following the cholera epidemic in Haiti, last weeks FSRN report on the recent increase of cholera infections was startling.

The outbreak of cholera, confirmed in Haiti on October 21, 2010, has killed 6000 people and more than 350,000 have been infected. There were 1000 new cases of the disease each day last month alone.

At the on-set of the outbreak there were several organizations focused on providing support and offering immediate and short-term, life-saving solutions, but now fewer and fewer are continuing their efforts and providing services focused on the long-term solutions.

Plans to improve conditions in Haiti exist, but progress in slow, as government agencies and non-governmental organizations have limited funding. Additionally millions in pledged aid has not arrived; money, which could be used to implement programs, including water sanitation and home reconstruction for the thousands still homeless since the January earthquake.

The cholera epidemic is ongoing and infections rates are increasing at an alarming rate. Although cholera is a preventable and manageable disease it has been extremely difficult to control, because of Haiti’s lacking infrastructure, sanitation and overall access to resources by the affected population. Medical aid and education on how to avoid infection is essential and is available in certain areas, but these critical resources and information are not reaching everyone in Haiti, especially those in rural areas where fewer services are available and resources are beyond scarce.


The report highlighted Cate Oswald who co-ordinates the Partners in Health clinics in Haiti. Oswald cited reasons for the increased infection rates; reasons that seem to parallel reasons given for high infections rates of other disease in Haiti.

The impact of the infection and its affect on Haitians has caused confusion and fear. There is an overarching theme – the way the cholera is being viewed is much like other diseases with a history in Haiti such as HIV/AIDS. The general public’s inability to cope and fear of becoming infected from sick family members and community has created a social stigma that is producing deadly results.
As a resource poor nation, Haiti has struggled to combat preventable and manageable diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV for decades, but cholera is new, and with all that Haiti has to contend with, the stigma attached to the disease has resulted in fewer people seeking help and thousands of people dying as a result. Instances of families taking people to treatment centers, only to abandon them because of fear of becoming sick or people dying in their homes, because they are afraid to admit that they have cholera are all too common and have contributed to increased infections and deaths.

As doctors and medical facilities work to cope with the cholera infection with little to no resources, they are up against the additional task of informing the public of the proper steps to take to avoid becoming sick. Those who are aware of how to avoid infection are still faced with the reality of unavailable drinking water, soap to wash their hands, proper latrines and easily accessible medical facilities.
When it comes to day-to-day survival in Haiti, the general public remains strong and is doing what they can to get by without food, water, proper shelter and sanitation, and the greater issue of Haitian welfare remains in the hands of the Haitian government and foreign governments who have vowed to implement long overdue solutions.
And so the Haitian people wait; fear of infection is real and until the people are provided with the support and basic resources to avoid infections and feel secure, the stigma will persist and cholera, a fully preventable and manageable disease will continue to take lives.


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

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.

No Excuses

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There’s no doubt that the worldwide financial downturn of recent years has affected everyone. The ranks of the unemployed around the world linger in double-digit percentages. Millions of people are struggling to make ends meet or put food on the table while still more are living in fear of losing their jobs. As a result, the priority of most families is to stick money in the bank for a rainy day. It’s understandable and prudent. However, it also poses a problem for organizations that depend on the public’s generosity. With the threat of a double-dip recession looming, reports seem to indicate that people are holding back from donating, the latest of which was reported in the BBC.

Global poverty charity Oxfam has reported rising sales but falling donations in its results for the year ending in March. As the recession bit, donations to the UK-based charity fell 3%, but sales of second-hand clothing and goods at its stores rose 2%.


For those of us fortunate enough to still be gainfully employed, we should think seriously about giving during this time when others are not able to do so for financial reasons. It’s time to pick up the slack as if we’ll all on the same team. In a way we are. We share this planet with each other and depend on each other.

One good charity that has a long history of doing good work is Partners in Health. Since the earthquake, they have started a fund called Stand With Haiti that will supplement what they are already doing there. And what are they doing? The list is staggering and you can find it here: They feed Haitians, teach them how to feed themselves, empower them through education, and offer health care free of charge. They have set up clinics in the spontaneous tent settlements that have sprouted up all over the earthquake-affected areas.

If you can give, it’s important that you do so. Five-ten-twenty dollars. Anything and everything helps.

– ML

Written by conversationswiththeliving

September 20, 2010 at 9:33 pm

You Be The Judge

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

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

Gede Greg C.

Displaced and Desperate Makes For Good Copy

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According to this piece in the NY Times, only 28,000 of the 1.5 million displaced Haitians in Port Au Prince have moved into new homes. Port Au Prince is still a wretched tapestry of filthy tent camps, strewn rubble, and congestion. The Haitian government isn’t acting fast or firm enough for citizens or the international community pledging donations to have much faith in the future of the rebuild. There have been some success stories, mostly by NGO’s and citizens joining forces, but they have been far and few in between.

Any country attempting to rebuild from such a catastrophe would find it a monumental task, but it feels like there’s an underlying tone in this story that is somewhat discomforting. The onus of the rebuild failure has been disproportionately placed on the Haitian government. There hasn’t really been unbiased reporting on how past US and European foreign policy and Haiti’s historically troubled relations with the superpowers of the world helped to lead the country into such an unstable state pre-Januuary 12th.

Usually, propaganda disguised as investigative reporting like this, is used to convince the world that the nation in question (Haiti) may need the assistance (read takeover) of the aforementioned superpowers. We’ve seen the US and European nations do this many times in the past, and there’s no reason to think that this disaster coverage isn’t a prelude to a full out US and EU occupation of the island. After all, they must protect the citizens from themselves and do the job that their own government seems incapable of doing. Wink, wink.

Mark my words, this has the potential to happen quicker than anyone would like to believe, or at least quicker than your local news outlet would have you.  The clock is ticking towards the November 28th elections. If the Haitian government doesn’t get it “right” once and for all, expect a press conference at the UN announcing an occupation to bring stability to the region.

All for the greater good of the citizens of Haiti of course.

Displaced and Desperate Makes For Good Copy

Gede Greg C.

Aid Still Very Slow In Arriving

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The Wall Street Journal is finally figuring out that the majority of aid pledged to Haiti to assist in the rebuild after the January 12th earthquake is still not arriving. The piece also examines land rights conflicts for displaced citizens. The usual suspects are blamed; weak and ineffective leadership on the Haitian government’s part. It’s been six months since the disaster and virtually nothing has changed on the ground in PAP. It can’t be much longer before the powder keg simmering in the Haitian capital erupts once and for all.

Aid Still Very Slow In Arriving

Gede Greg C.