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On Haiti Day of Prayer, Activists Discuss Long-Term Goals for HIV Clinics

By Charles King

February 14, 2010

Thursday afternoon, after many attempts, Edner and I finally met with Dr. Claude Surena, the former Chief of Staff for the Haitian Minister of Health who is currently appointed by the President of Haiti to the job of Chief of the Committee for Health Relief.

"I want to thank you, Mr. King, for all that Housing Works is doing for Haiti," he begins. "But why are you bringing ARVs and antibiotics into the country in suitcases? We have all the medications we need. I have a whole 'depo' fulll of ARVs."

"That's great," I respond. "We would be happy not to have to carry suitcases of medication to supply our clinics. To whom do we need to talk do we get access to the ARVs that are in your depo?"

"You are talking to him," Dr. Surena replies.

"Oh, excellent! That's exactly why we are here." Edner says. "How can we get ARVs and antibiotics from you?"

Dr. Surena scratches his head and then pulls on his chin. "I guess you should probably write me a letter," he finally says. "Then I should be able to tell you who you would speak with to get what you need."

"We need the medications now," Edner says. "Can you just tell us who we need to speak with and let them know they should work with us?"

"You really should be working through the HIV cluster, you know. They meet once a week. And tomorrow is a holiday. Send me a letter on Monday, and I will see what I can do."

Friday was indeed the one month anniversary of the earthquake and had been declared a national day of prayer. Our clinics, along with everything else in PAP except hospitals, are closed out of respect for the dead.

Still, there is work to be done. The SOLO volunteers want to spend the day at the University of Miami field hospital, and I need to meet up with Jobanny and our newest doctor, Peter Sanaman, who is making his way in from the frontier.

Leaving the campground, we find the streets deserted. The markets are closed, with not even a vendor on the street corner. Buses and taxis appear not to be running either. But then we hit a traffic jam. It lasts for several blocks. Finally we see the cause. There are hundreds of people filling the street, all in their best clothes, many women wearing white, all waiting patiently to enter a still-standing church already spilling over with parishioners.

Every church or church yard we pass is the same. Haiti is indeed a nation at prayer.

After a quick trip to the airport to drop of the volunteers and meet Peter and Jobanny, we head to the PHAP+ clinic. Members of the PHAP+ board who can make it are meeting to discuss their long-term goals for the clinic.

We gather around a table and review the options. I make clear that the present effort isn't sustainable for the longterm. If they feel that they want to keep the clinic going, they need to come up with a plan. Otherwise we need to talk about how we phase out after the initial 90 days.

We discuss pros and cons and options in between. I let them know that Diaspora is clear that it wants to see Centre Medico rebuilt. It is also clear that FEBS wants the clinic in St. Marc to become a permanent fixture.

Liony Accélus, the Director of REPIVIH and PHAP+ Vice President says, "There is no way the other clinics will be up and running in 90 days. Lots of people still won't have access to treatment of we shut this down.

"You know, the government is taking us more seriously now that we were one of the first to get a real clinic open," adds someone else.

Reginald Dupont, who represents SeroVIE, a group that works with men who have sex with men and transgender folk, says, quietly but firmly, "There are other reasons to keep this clinic open. Everyone knows that the clinics we have don't treat sexual minorities very well. How can they treat them when they won't even talk about sex?" Everyone nods in agreement.

Harking back to their Human Rights conference last November, and the debate over inclusion of "sexual minorities" in their conference declaration, someone else adds, "We haven't fought as much since we started working on this together. Doing this makes us stronger."

So it is decided. PHAP+ will have its own permanent clinic that will serve people living with HIV/AIDS and those most at risk and that will focus on sexual health, explicitly including the wellbeing of sexual minorities.

The group decides that it must make funding for the clinic a part of the national reconstruction plan. That will require support and advocacy in donor countries like the U.S. PHAP+ will also still need international volunteers. A clinic of this sort has never operated in Port-au-Prince. To make it work will require training by providers who have done this before.

The group decides that the clinic should start shifting direction as soon as possible. That means an expanded or other interim structure is necessary. The current open tenting offers no privacy, an essential if sexual health is going to be a topic.

I look around the ASON office, where we are meeting. The building has no cracks from the earthquake. It could easily provide room for private consults and exams. Everyone looks at me like I have lost my mind at the suggestion. "The building is okay," Edner explains. "But our staff and patients aren't ready to move back into a heavy concrete building like this yet."

The SeroVIE offices right next door have completely collapsed. But there is a big front patio that is free of debris. "I am sure you can put something up at our place." Reginald says.

Before we walk over to look at the space, the group decides that it is time to fire a first shot across the bow of the UN and USAID. "People with AIDS are at the back of the bus right now," says Liony. "It's not just the ARVs. We are the last to get food, the last to get water, and the last to get tents. If we don't get these, they won't need to waste their money on ARVs."

Reginald agrees to draft a letter to the two organizations that are supposed to spearhead the relief efforts. "You know, you are going to have to help us with this, Charles," says Edner. "The UN and USAID will listen to people in the United States long before they listen to Haitians."

Jobanny and I are supposed to drive up to St. Marc this afternoon. As we head out of town, traffic has picked up a little bit. But people are still spilling out of every church and church yard we pass.

Even in St. Marc, the churches are full when we arrive after dark. Deep into the early hours of the morning, long after we have pulled out our bedrolls, I hear hymns and prayers from a congregation gathered down the street from where we fitfully sleep.

Read all of King's blog posts from Haiti

Please consider donating to Housing Works' relief efforts in Haiti. Every dollar makes a difference.



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Charles King Blogs From Haiti


Charles King

Charles King

Charles King is the president and CEO of Housing Works which has been providing services since 1990 to homeless men, women, and children living with HIV and AIDS in New York City and beyond. King is one of a handful of people living with HIV at the head of a major AIDS organization. He cofounded Housing Works with his life partner Keith Cylar. When Cylar passed away in 2004, King took the reins.

Born and raised in a small town in Texas, King attended Yale University's law school and divinity school and was ordained as a Baptist minister by an African-American church in New Haven, Connecticut. He conducts a weekly Bible study course at Housing Works' Keith D. Cylar House, where he lives in a small, book-lined studio. King also leads Housing Works' advocacy department and has been arrested dozens of times.


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Recent Posts:

March 2, 2010 - The UN Responds to Calls for Haiti AIDS Strategy, but Activists Are Skeptical

March 1, 2010 - UN and UNAIDS Must Address Needs of Haitians With HIV/AIDS

February 22, 2010 - A Slow Recovery in Haiti

February 16, 2010 - Haiti Progress: St. Marc Clinic Opens, ARVs for Patients Secured

February 14, 2010 - On Haiti Day of Prayer, Activists Discuss Long-Term Goals for HIV Clinics

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