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Would President Wyclef Jean Make HIV/AIDS a Priority?

August 2, 2010

It's not clear if Jean would be an AIDS crusader.

It's not clear if Jean would be an AIDS crusader.

With rumors spreading that Haitian-born, Brooklyn-bred hip-hop singer Wyclef Jean might run for Haiti's top political spot, we have to ask: Can we trust a President Jean to push HIV/AIDS to the forefront of the nation's recovery plan?

We'd like to think that he might.

Yelé, the foundation he created in 2008, claims to reach about 2,000 young people a month through an HIV/AIDS prevention education program. In 2002, the artist joined other big-name musicians in Levi's Staying Alive campaign, a fundraiser for Population Services International's YouthAIDS program. He's also a participant in the (Product) Red campaign, which has contributed more than $150 million to the Global Fund since the campaign's inception in 2006.

Perhaps most importantly, the virus has had a dramatic impact on the 37-year-old's life. Jean left Haiti in the early 1980s, just as scientists were discovering the virus' high prevalence rate in his already struggling Caribbean nation. He then moved to New York, the city which had -- and continues to have -- the highest number of HIV positive individuals in the nation.

"Listen, I right now know a total of about 150 people that have HIV," he said in a 2008 video recorded for MTV's Move Your Lips campaign, an international effort to get young people talking about HIV/AIDS. "Thirty of them are real close friends of mine. And I'm watching 'em die one by one. So when we're telling you protect yourself, it's not a slogan. If you do not protect yourself you will suffer the consequences."

"Nobody Else Is Making HIV a Priority"

Of course, the big question for AIDS advocates is whether Jean's personal experience and philanthropic endeavors would compel him to make HIV/AIDS in Haiti a concrete political priority. The country has worked hard to steadily reduce its staggering HIV infection rate, shifting from 6 percent in the 1990s to just 2.2 percent today. But the instability caused by the earthquake threatens to reverse that progress, and the government has failed to incorporate a comprehensive HIV/AIDS plan in its 115-page recovery strategy.


Housing Works' Haiti Country Director Edner Boucicaut has been fighting for months to get politicians to address HIV after the quake. So far, he said, no one has succeeded in taking the issue off the political backburner.

"There are just so many issues here right now," he said. "Job creation. Cleaning up the rubble. Getting people into homes. Nobody else is making HIV a priority. Yes, Jean has done some work to educate people in Haiti about HIV. Yes, he's lent his voice to a few campaigns. But does he realize how critical it is to address his problem -- and now? We will see. That we will see."

In July, Dr. Jean William Pape, director of GHESKIO, the country's research and training center for HIV/AIDS, surprised Haitian activists by announcing at the International AIDS Conference that "the HIV epidemic is being controlled in Haiti." The statement came days after Haitian activists launched a protest at the conference in Vienna, arguing that more attention is needed to control the HIV epidemic after the crisis.

Jean will have to announce by Aug. 7 if he is indeed running for president. The election is Nov. 28. At press time, Yelé's press contact had not responded to an e-mail about what form an HIV/AIDS plan -- under President Jean -- might take.

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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.
See Also
More on HIV in Haiti

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