Haiti Activists Criticize Lack of Representation on IAC AIDS Panel; Demand Action From Goosby
July 20, 2010
Wednesday, at the only high-profile panel on AIDS in Haiti at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Haitian AIDS activist Esther Boucicault criticized a group of powerful panel members for not including any Haitians with HIV in the discussion.
"You're addressing an issue that has to do with HIV and AIDS after the earthquake," said Boucicault during the panel question and answer session. "But the panel does not include anyone with AIDS, how do you think we feel?" Boucicault, who in 1998 became the first person in Haiti to publicly share her HIV status, is the president of Haiti's national grassroots AIDS coalition, PHAP+.
The panel consisted of Paul Farmer, UN Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti, as well as Jean William Pape, Patrice Severe and Marie-Marcelle Deschamps, all top officials at GHESKIO, Haiti's nearly 30-year-old research and training center for HIV/AIDS. Pape, GHESKIO's founding and current director, acknowledged Boucicault's criticism. He also said that key future discussions should include Haitians with HIV.
The oversight seemed emblematic of a larger problem in Haiti: In a nation facing a slew of problems, no one has made the country's 120,000 HIV-positive people a priority. Six months after the shocks have subdsided, there is still no comprehensive plan for restoring the nation's hard-won AIDS infrastructure or preventing a new epidemic among the two million Haitians living in temporary settlements. The lengthy post-disaster plan, published by the Haitian government earlier this year, mentions HIV/AIDS only briefly. PHAP+ and Housing Works have been pushing leaders for months to create a robust AIDS plan in the country.
Get on Board, Goosby
In an interview before the panel, Eric Goosby, global AIDS coordinator for the U.S., said he is confident that HIV will be "intimately woven" throughout Haiti's national recovery plan. In April, Goosby, who oversees implementation of both the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and U.S. engagement with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria promised to influence the Haitian government to include Haitians living with HIV in the rebuilding process of the country's AIDS services.
"I can tell you that HIV/AIDS is not being ignored by the Haitians, or by us," he said.
His words surprised Haitian activists in Vienna, who said they've seen little to no evidence that the Haitian government will weave a concrete plan for HIV/AIDS into its recovery plan.
"Dr. Goosby knows the situation on the ground, and I'd like to see him put those words into action," said Edner Boucicaut, who, as Housing Works country director in Haiti, provides advocacy and organizing assistance to grassroots HIV/AIDS organizations in the tiny nation.
He insisted that the lack of attention to the issue now will spell disaster for his country in the future, sending HIV infection rates back to the levels of the 1990s. "This is perhaps the most evident thing that should be addressed after the earthquake."
Raising Their Voices
After the panel, activists, unwilling to be silenced, led a noisy Haiti solidarity march through the halls of the conference complex. The goal: Get the future of AIDS in Haiti on the international radar screen. The protest comes a day after Boucicault met with President Bill Clinton to discuss the future of AIDS in Haiti -- a sign that policy-shapers are finally paying attention.
Joined by an international coalition of activists -- including Housing Works, Health GAP and ACT Up Paris -- the marchers headed to the conference's main hall. They stormed the stage, cheered sporadically by thousands of conference participants waiting for a panel that included famed AIDS researcher Anthony Fauci and singer-activist Annie Lennox. On stage, Lennox rose from her seat, clapping in support of the demonstration. [See video]
Boucicault delivered a speech in Haitian Creole, translated into English for the audience, demanding that recovery efforts include a more robust response to Haiti's AIDS epidemic.
Liony Accelus, president of the Haitian HIV/AIDS advocacy group REHPIHIV, followed.
"We have enough money on paper," he said. "Now we want to see action."
Organizations Highlight Plight of HIV-Positive Haitians, Call for Donors to Support "Whole of Society" Health System Strengthening
This article was provided by Housing Works. It is a part of the publication Housing Works AIDS Issues Update. Visit Housing Works' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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