UN and UNAIDS Must Address Needs of Haitians With HIV/AIDS

The disaster in Haiti continues to unfold even as the world's attention begins to shift. Chile suffered a much larger earthquake than Haiti's this weekend that spawned fears of a tsunami throughout the Pacific. Yet there has apparently been far less damage and much less loss of life, as much of Chile has been built in anticipation of such an event.

Meanwhile, the UN and USAID acknowledged this week that they have less than half the tents they need to shelter everyone made homeless by Haiti's January 12 earthquake and the tremblers that followed.

The Haitian government, the international organizations, nor the U.S. has developed a coherent plan to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in light of the earthquake. There still has been no meaningful effort to identify people living with HIV to ensure that they have access to medications, to shelter, or to food and water. Instead, they are being left to fend for themselves along with everyone else. Edner Boucicaut stood up at the HIV cluster meeting and threatened demonstrations if a meaningful plan wasn't developed.

Last night we talked about the feasibility of organizing an action directed at the UN and USAID later this week. The logistics to make something like this happen are pretty incredible. But Edner is convening the PHAP+ leadership to see if they believe they can muster a recognizable showing.

Reversing course, the Haitian government and international aid groups now acknowledge that it wasn't such a bright idea to encourage people to crowd into massive camps. The first heavy rains made clear that the camps, mostly in lower-lying areas, could not be maintained. Overflowing latrines have spilled sewage into the narrow walkways and open spaces where children play. Because of crowding, any disease outbreak will spread quickly. So now the government is urging people to go back to the rubble that was their homes, even while trying to bulldoze spaces where people can move their camps off the streets.

Everywhere there are signs of individual ingenuity. People are digging out clearings, harvesting lumber and tin, and using them to build shanties. But strict property rules are being followed. So people who didn't own their homes are left with nothing to use. In many parts of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas, food is still scarce. Some have only rice, and others have nothing.

The immediate rescue phase having ended, more relief agencies are leaving. Last week a U.S. government sponsored field hospital, built right next to GHESKIO, closed up shop with little notice to anyone. The US Comfort, a navy hospital ship, has stopped taking new patients. Much of the U.S. military has pulled out. It's not clear how these vital services are supposed to be replaced. Little of the basic health care infrastructure has been restored.

Meanwhile, the Haitian government is reasserting its authority. One government minister has suggested that all relief goods brought in by outside non-profit organizations be confiscated unless the non-profits pay duty or prove their bonifides. While there are undoubtedly some shady operators, this has the smell of a shakedown.

Last week, a container of relief goods shipped to PHAP+ by World Care Center arrived at the port of Miragoane. It sat in the crowded harbor for several days waiting to dock. Once at the wharf, Haitian Customs reviewed the paperwork. Of course, it was found to be insufficient. Edner was told he could either leave to pallets sitting out in the open air for as long as it took to "clear up" the paper work, or he could pay certain "fees." Thrown in with the fees were a number of tents included in the shipment to which the customs agent felt entitled.

Haitian immigration has started closing the land borders promptly at 7pm, leaving caravans of goods waiting to enter. The Dominicans have kept their side of the border open, but are now making relief workers go through immigration and customs. Jobanny went to the Haitian Embassy this week and got a one year visa so that he can continue to travel freely bringing volunteers back and forth across the border.

Still, some very good things are happening. I am told my $11,000 haircut makes me look years younger, so shear madness did me no harm. I am truly grateful to all the people how contributed to this event. It seems the Housing Works community now has a franchise on my hair. Also, this week, I received a call from the Reverend Pat Bumgardner, the Senior Pastor of the New York congregation of the Metropolitan Community Church. After discussing the needs of the clinics, she sent me an e-mail informing me that we would be receiving a $10,000 check from the Denomination in support of the clinics' work with people living with AIDS and HIV.