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Fritz Lolagne
Orlando, Florida
 


Fritz Lolagne
   
Reaching Out to Haitian Immigrants in Central Florida As actively involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS as Dr. Fritz Lolagne has been over the years, there are still moments in his life when he wishes that he could do more. Amidst the personal struggles and trauma in his own life, Dr. Lolagne has risen above trials and tribulation and found success and fulfillment in helping others. A medical doctor turned full-time prevention educator, he takes pride in being able to directly take part in the fight for people to maintain healthy lives.

Born and raised in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, Dr. Lolagne has always been driven by his passion for helping people. For as far back as he can remember, he has always wanted to be a medical doctor. He spent 23 years in his homeland as a surgeon and general practitioner. Four years ago, under rather unexpected and trying circumstances, he relocated his family to the United States and only looks back through the eyes of a man with a mission to create social change, not just for Haiti, but for the world at large. In his words, "one country cannot protect itself 100% if the rest of the world is unprotected." It is his belief that prevention efforts should not be limited to just a local focus, but should rather be approached from a global perspective.

He is currently a prevention educator with the Center for Multicultural Wellness and Prevention in Orlando, Florida, doing what he loves best, working with people. He is also a member of the Consumer Advisory Board at the Orange County Health Department. While he has a vested interest in reaching the Haitian community specifically, Dr. Lolagne enjoys working with people from various walks of life. He understands that, as a prevention educator, he must wear many different hats and that flexibility, patience and compassion are all essential traits. His methods of outreach and prevention education take on many faces, including his weekly involvement in a community radio and television program that focuses on HIV/AIDS.

Although he admits to never taking a "real" vacation and not having much spare time, Dr. Lolagne does make time for spiritual reading. He also spends whatever free time he does get advising and educating people in his homeland on HIV prevention. An incredibly humble man who thrives on doing for others, he credits Deepak Chopra's The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success with being the book that has had a huge impact on his spiritual being.

PRACTICE

How long have you been doing prevention education?

For 23 years -- 20 years in Haiti and three years in Orlando, Florida.
"... as a prevention educator, the level of my contribution to helping others is even more profound. I am directly taking a part in the fight for people to maintain healthy lives."

What made you want to get involved in preventing HIV?

I wanted to get involved in preventing HIV because of the stigma and the denial of HIV. Doing HIV prevention is leading a real war against HIV. The main reason I wanted to be a medical doctor was to help people; indeed, I have assisted many people. Now, as a prevention educator, the level of my contribution to helping others is even more profound. I am directly taking a part in the fight for people to maintain healthy lives. There is nothing more precious than good health.

Can you describe how your work has changed since you first started?

When I first started, my engagement was primarily in conducting workshops from different clinics and health centers. Now, I am involved in weekly community radio and television programs focusing on HIV/AIDS. I am also working on an asthma project.

If I were to follow you over the week, what would I see you do at work? Please give details of all the things you actually do (i.e., running a workshop, writing grants, etc.)

One would need a lot of energy to follow me for a week. I go from clinic to clinic, doing various tasks. There is not a "typical day in the life" for me. Some days, I meet patients all day, providing them with prevention education relative to their specific situation. Sometimes, I devote my time to being a medical interpreter. My days vary so often, I wouldn't even know where to begin to explain the details.

What's the best thing about your job?

I have the opportunity to deal with many people from various walks of life. Because of that, I have a chance to make a difference in many peoples' lives.

What's the worst thing about your job?

Dealing with people who are in denial. It makes it difficult to get to their specific prevention needs.

What have been your greatest successes in your work? Greatest failures?

The greatest success: When I encounter very sick people who are about to die and link them to care, they become self-sufficient, and they begin to carry out prevention education to others. The greatest failure: Not being able to help more people every day.

What is the biggest challenge you face as a prevention educator? Would other educators give a similar answer?

I cannot make a living only working as a prevention educator; therefore, I am forced to do other things as well. I think all educators would feel the same.

What's the primary risk factor in the Haitian community?

Ignorance is the primary risk factor in the Haitian community. Most of the time HIV infection is due to unprotected sex, and people have unprotected sex because of ignorance. When women fear losing their men, they comply and have unprotected sex with them. Of course, drug use or sharing of needles leads to unprotected sex.

Is the "down low" (where men are married or have girlfriends but also have sex with men) a phenomena there as well?

Because bisexuality and homosexuality are taboos in the Haitian community, it's difficult to know if the "down low" phenomenon is common.

Is there intravenous drug use?

The practice of intravenous drug use is uncommon in the Haitian community.

How much Creole do you use in your work? What are some of your prevention techniques? Are you focused on people infected with HIV or people uninfected?

To communicate with clients, I use Creole 100% of the time. I use the three steps of prevention to convince people, I also teach condom skills. I focus on both, HIV-infected and uninfected people, because it is very important for people having a negative HIV test to keep their negativity.

Do you do workshops? If so, where?

I do workshops in churches, in housing complexes and at social and cultural events.

Are the Haitian churches involved in doing prevention outreach?

Yes, they are.

Is there anything particularly challenging or different about working preventing HIV in the Haitian community? How have things changed in this community over the years?

Working within the Haitian community is particularly different because a lot of Haitians are undocumented. It takes time to gain their confidence, most of the time they have problems working, they can't drive a car and have all kinds of complex problems in order to survive. Things changed in the worst way since September 11, 2001, especially for those without immigration papers.

Is there anything particularly challenging or different about making sure that people get testing for HIV in the Haitian community? Can you give specific details?

The biggest challenge is to have qualified people doing street outreach in the Haitian community on a regular basis. The Center for Multicultural Wellness and Prevention uses the media for education of the Haitian community.
"Working within the Haitian community is particularly different because a lot of Haitians are undocumented."

Is there anything particularly challenging or different about making sure that people in the Haitian community who test positive for HIV also access treatment?

When people test positive for HIV in the Haitian community, they have access to treatment at the Orange County Health Department through the Center for Multicultural Wellness and Prevention. Those who have health insurance go to private doctors. Whatever their health status, the Center for Multicultural Wellness and Prevention is a good liaison for them in all situations.

What happens if someone is illegally in the United States. Can they get treatment? How is this done?

When people are illegal with a positive HIV test, they can get treatment in their county health department. In Central Florida, specifically, I have good experience with Orange County Health Department, where they treat people with respect and dignity. Someone illegal having HIV must seek eligibility in ADAP (AIDS Drug Assistance Program). Then, he or she is sent to the immunology clinic for medical care. The health department has a pharmacy where eligible people can find anti-HIV medicine. At the Orange County Health Department, they have a Cheers for Peers Program, where the clients can be enrolled and receive all kind of support.

Are you involved with rapid testing and counseling?

I am involved indirectly with rapid testing and counseling. When I find people in need of a rapid test, I send them to other agencies where they can have access to this kind of service.

Did you do any HIV prevention work in Haiti?

Of course, yes. Although I never worked in an agency as a prevention educator in Haiti, I did a lot of work in that field in my private practice.

Are there any other immigrant groups that you work with?

I work with people coming from the Caribbean and Africa.

Are you seeing more people testing positive because of methamphetamine?

Meth is not common in the Haitian community.

Do you think that the prevention efforts are sufficient? Would you change anything?

Prevention efforts are insufficient. They should not be limited to being locally focused. I feel they should be taken to a global level. One country cannot protect itself 100% if the entire world is not protected.

What is the most important/memorable/useful thing you have learned from the people you work with?

I have learned to appreciate life, family and friends.

How do you maintain a positive outlook and avoid burning out?

I do spiritual reading.

If you weren't a prevention educator what would you be?

I would always be an educator, one way or another. It is fulfilling to me.

What do you think is the biggest problem people living with HIV face today?

They are afraid of being rejected by society.

Who would you dedicate this award to if you could?

Everyone concerned about HIV/AIDS in one way or another.

PERSONAL

Can you share a little personal information yourself?

I'm a humble person. I thrive on doing for others. I don't believe in one person being better or worse than anyone else. I stay open to anyone interested in sharing information about HIV/AIDS.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

Since I can remember, I always wanted to be a medical doctor.

What kind of work do/did your parents do?

My father was a sanitation inspector. My mother was a homemaker.

When did you decide you wanted to be a prevention educator? (What was your major in college?)

When I started working for the Center for Multicultural Wellness and Prevention in early 2002. My major was biology.

What other jobs have you had?

Although I am not licensed and not practicing medicine in the United States, I've been and continue to be a surgeon practicing in Haiti for the past 30 years. I supervised two mobile units that performed outpatient surgery in Haiti for 20 years. I was also the director of a hospital in Petit Goâve, Haiti. I worked for agencies like World Vision in La Gonâve, Haiti, and the Centre pour le Developpement de la Santé (CDS) (Center for the Development of Health in Haiti).
"When people are illegal with a positive HIV test, they can get treatment in their county health department."

Who were the most influential people in your life, both professionally and personally? Please explain why you have given this answer.

My teachers. I realized they are the cornerstone of society. Through them I discovered not only that I had the vocation but I was inspired to become an educator.

What do you do in your spare time?

I do not have much spare time. I am always on the move. When I'm not working, I try to stay abreast of what is going on by reading.

Do you have a partner?

My wife's name is Martha. I have four kids: one boy and three girls. Their names are Ary, 24; Farah, 21; Annie, 18; and Dorothy, 10.

Where do you live?

I live in Orlando, Florida. The community is multicultural. I like the fact that it is a diverse community.

If you had any place to live besides where you live now, where would you live?

Anywhere in the world where there are people in need of help.

What's the best vacation you ever had?

Honestly, I've had time off in my life, but I've never really had a vacation.

What's the biggest adventure you ever had?

The biggest adventure of my life was moving with my family to the United States four years ago under unexpected circumstances. I was not sure what to expect. But as one who never had an easy life, my family and I are adjusting quite well.

What's currently on your bedside table for reading?

Peace is the Way by Deepak Chopra.

What book would you say has had the most impact on you?

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra.

What kind of music do you like to listen to? Who are the artists you listen to the most?

I like to listen to classical music. I like to listen to Johann Strauss.

Interview by Keith Green

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