HIV is a virus just like the common cold, influenza, or plantar warts. But ever since its discovery in the 1980s, a stigma has been attached to HIV/AIDS, classifying carriers of the disease as “unclean.” This is primarily due to the nature of transmission: sexual transmission or infected fluids. Globally, close to 37 million are infected with AIDS, so this isn’t an issue that will be going away any time soon.
Haiti has a long history with AIDS. HIV/AIDS was first discovered in the US in the early 1980s, when it showed up in migrants escaping Haiti’s dictatorship under Jean-Claude Duvalier. Haiti accounts for a whopping 55 percent of people living with HIV in the Caribbean. That’s 137,500 people or 1.3 percent of Haiti’s total population. The Haitian Ministry of Health estimates that number is low; they think closer to 2.2 percent of Haitians live with HIV/AIDS. The most vulnerable population in Haiti is young women. Currently 0.5 percent of girls aged 15-19 in Haiti have HIV or AIDS, and women age 20-24 are three times more likely to have AIDS than men of the same age.
AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is a set of symptoms caused by the HIV virus. AIDS is the result of an advanced HIV infection. AIDS is diagnosed when a person’s immune system has been so compromised that they are unable to fight off infections. If left untreated, it will lead to death.
The condition of AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa has long been a concern, but the World Health Organization has many medical professionals concerned about the growth of HIV/AIDS in Europe in recent years. According to research, close to 160,000 cases were confirmed last year; a 52 percent increase from previous years. Eastern Europe accounts for 80 percent of new cases, and poor HIV prevention programs are to blame.
The response in Haiti hasn’t been much better. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is concerned about the decline and use of funding for AIDS prevention in Latin America. In a recent forum, they warned that countries in Latin America should be treating AIDS prevention and treatment as a “national emergency.” Haiti is one of 11 Latin American countries that relies on external funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs.
At LiveBeyond about percent of the women in our Maternal Health program are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS each year through testing. Though we cannot get treatment medications into the country due to strict regulations, these women are educated about their illness and sent to an AIDS clinic in Port-au-Prince. They are also treated with just as much love and attention as any other mother in the program. We also work with the CDC and Haitian Ministry of Health to combat HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases in our area. Medical students from the State University of Haiti come to the LiveBeyond base for training and learning opportunities.
And we aren’t alone. Project Hope focuses on prevention and care of orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS around the world. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation targets incarcerated individuals in Haiti, and their freestanding clinic is one of the few AIDS prevention services in the country.
AIDS, left untreated, leads to death. The Lord gives life and gives it abundantly (John 10:10). That makes it our job as Christians to fight to end HIV/AIDS. Together we can help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in Haiti and provide treatment options for those infected. Let’s end it.
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Devin Vanderpool is the Director of Communications for LiveBeyond, a faith-based humanitarian and disaster response non-profit working to transform lives with sustainable solutions in Haiti. To find out how you can partner with LiveBeyond visit http://livebeyond.org/waystohelp/ .
Hear the latest news from Haiti, read posts about faith and community development, and find transcriptions from the LiveBeyond podcast.