Disaster in Haiti
Yet, more than nine months after the earthquake, and another two months since Vienna, Haiti is still without an organized emergency AIDS response. U.N. and USAID officials have promised an action plan, but that "plan" that was written was simply to appease critics, not to set anything real in motion. Haiti's two major health care entities are competing over the reconstruction of the health care system, and neither of them is talking with HIV-positive people or grassroots providers and advocates. The city sits on piles of rubble. Thousands of people are still living in the camps, with the threat of imminent eviction. Some HIV medication is being distributed, but treatment is still not reaching those who need it. HIV prevention is not being done in the encampments, leaving their inhabitants at risk for HIV. And now, cholera has reared its head, which will claim more lives as aid organizations rush to respond.
The need for immediate action couldn't be clearer, but both national and international efforts have come up short. It is the activists in Haiti who will get this done by refusing to stand and watch their country fall apart.
Unfortunately, grassroots organizations are being overlooked as allies, and large amounts of aid funding is going to large internationally based charity organizations that have parked themselves in Haiti. But the grassroots organizations have been able to most effectively reach people, especially people with HIV. Despite the fact that they are not being included in the response to this tragedy, people are moving forward, and -- even without government cooperation -- many small community-based services are being provided.
With the total destruction of Haiti's health care system, Haitian activists involved in the coalition PHAP+ and other grassroots organizations have partnered with Housing Works to organize clinics in places where the needs are greatest. In the initial days after the earthquake, these clinics triaged injuries and provided people a safe space. Now, they continue ensure that there are places people can go to receive HIV medications and comprehensive health care.
PHAP+ has also continued to bring light to the lack of prevention and care for people who are HIV-positive and those who are at risk in the encampments. In the months following the earthquake, they organized widespread condom distribution, sending volunteers and coalition members into the largest camps in Port-au-Prince to talk with people about HIV and how to stay safe. These actions have been tied to public criticism of the government's response and a demand for a community-supported Haitian National AIDS Strategy to rebuild its system of care for those who are HIV-positive.
Haitian activists with HIV have been more and more public about their status, which has allowed them to be clear about their needs as a community. Stigma has hampered housing provision, jobs and health care for people with HIV for years, and the earthquake has only amplified those needs. But their willingness to speak out and to demand that the government and the international community respond will be the key to Haiti's recovery.
Kristin Goodwin is the Director of NYC Policy and Organizing at Housing Works.
This article was provided by ACRIA and GMHC. It is a part of the publication Achieve. Visit ACRIA's website and GMHC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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