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The UN Responds to Calls for Haiti AIDS Strategy, but Activists Are Skeptical

By Charles King

March 2, 2010

There's nothing like a call for a demonstration to get action. Yesterday, following our conversation about making good on the threat Edner made at the last HIV Cluster meeting, he began making calls to enlist support for a demonstration later this week over the lack of a plan from the UN and USAID for caring for people with HIV/AIDS. Within hours, he received a call from a senior in-country advisor to the UN.

"We at the UN and USAID are working on a plan together," she said. "We should have something out soon. Now would not be a good time to have a demonstration."

Edner noted that six weeks has now passed without a plan, much less any action. "We will meet with you and the PHAP+ leadership later this week, and share with you what we have developed," the advisor said. "Just agree not to do a demonstration until we have had a chance to meet."

Edner has agreed to organize a meeting this Thursday for the unveiling of the HIV/AIDS disaster response plan. But he hasn't put aside plans for a demonstration. "The plan cannot just be something on paper. We don't have time for any more studies or needs assessments. We need action that gets people with HIV/AIDS food, water, shelter, and, most important, access to their ARVs."

Meanwhile I ask Edner about progress with Dr. Surena, the presidentially appointed chair of the Haitian Committee for Health Relief, on access to medications, including ARVs.

"Dr. Surena is out of the country apparently," Edner said "He's trying to get a rest." Edner adds that while Dr. Surena was correct about a warehouse full of medication, it didn't have any ARVs. Those are all under the control of Global Fund and PEPFAR/USAID, not the Haitian government.

Meanwhile, we are light on volunteer medical staff. One doctor, Pierre Jeannot, has gone with two SOLO EMTs to reopen the clinic in St. Marc. It was closed all last week for lack of medical providers. Two other EMTs are holding down the fort at the PHAP+ clinic while awaiting the arrival this morning of nurse practitioner Shana Spitzman. One of the EMTs sent me the following note last night:

My name is Monroe Mann. I am an EMT from NY-NH (SOLO) working here in POP in one of the local Housing Works clinics. Today was my first day. My fellow EMT Dave and I treated about 25 patients today -- from common colds to broken bones to urinary tract infections. I am very pleased to be able to help and look forward to our continued service. We also look forward to the arrival of the incoming nurse practitioner to help us -- the biggest issue is lack of an infrastructure down here, which has also led to a lack of medications: doxycycline, pregnancy tests, expectorant for coughs, and others. Solo (Rowan) and Housing Works (Edner) have done a great job organizing this relief effort but the key thing to understand is that the relief effort is not over -- there are still tens of thousands living in tents, without medical care, and in dire poverty -- these people are grateful for our help and are in desperate need of it. I look forward to my continued involvement.

This last weekend, four people are known to have died and four became missing in the heavy rains in the southwest part of the country. And the rainy season has yet to begin. Meanwhile, while the Haitian government has been holding firmly to the number of 217,000 dead and 70,000 missing, the Haitian Roman Catholic cleric, Archbishop Louis Kebreau made waves by publicly estimating the number of deaths at 500,000.

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