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From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

PORT-AU-PRINCE, (Oct. 20) IPS - Though precise statistics do not yet exist
on how the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) has affected Haiti,
public education campaigns are believed to be having a positive effect on
people's behavior.
   Many who consider themselves healthy are no longer wary of casual
contact with people with AIDS. And ever since a support group for people
with AIDS was established two years ago, sufferers themselves are less
likely to view their disease as a shameful secret.
   During this period as well, the authorities and some non- governmental
organizations (NGOs) have launched public education campaigns to improve
the public's understanding of the disease.
   Haiti has one of the highest rates of infection in the western
hemisphere. More than 73 percent of the population lives below the poverty
line, and estimates are that more than 300,000 people are infected with
HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
   Even though public education campaigns on the subject have become more
intensive, the infection rate has not been staunched. In a country of 8.2
million where almost 70 percent of the population is illiterate, a fully
informed public is not an easy goal.
   New measures are frequently announced by health officials. Some are
still in the planning stages, while others are recognized to be little more
than politicking.
   Some of those ill with AIDS are still waiting for promised government
subsidies or for the authorities to provide them with the medicines which
will stem the progression of the disease.
   Their frequent criticism of the lack of an official AIDS policy or any
assistance for AIDS-sufferers represents a thorn in the government's side.
   At the beginning of August, Michelle Amedee Gedeon, the Haitian Minister
of Health, announced that the government was trying to eliminate taxes on
medications for people with AIDS.
   A Haitian with AIDS needs between $12,000 and $13,000 a year to buy
medicine. This is more than 16 times the per capita income of the average
citizen, and two-thirds that of a member of parliament.
   Given that the government lacks the financial wherewithal to provide the
help to people with AIDS offered in more economically-developed countries,
the minister is emphasizing prevention in her remarks to the public,
especially the youth. "The best-case scenario would be to simply stop the
spread of the virus," she said.
   The Minister of Health is also working on an anti-retroviral therapy for
pregnant women which will lessen the chances of transmitting the disease to
   On Oct. 16, the Haitian health minister announced that there would very
soon be clinical trials for a vaccine against the strain of AIDS found in
Haiti. The first batch of vaccine will be available this week and
administered to healthy individuals who have volunteered for the study.
   The trial will last for some 24 months and is being run in conjunction
with the Vanderbilt AIDS Vaccine Evaluation Unit of the Vanderbilt
University in the United States.
   Since the Vanderbilt AIDS vaccine program was established in 1987,
nearly 500 people have participated in tests that it has conducted. It is
one of 10 university-based AIDS vaccine programs in the United States.
   The vaccine uses the canary pox virus, which cannot reproduce in
mammals, to carry inactive HIV genes in an effort to help the body develop
defenses against HIV infection. Side effects in previous studies have been
limited to mild fever and muscle soreness where the vaccine was injected.
   "Haiti's participation with other countries in the region, such as
Trinidad and Tobago and Brazil, in these clinical trials is a demonstration
of our solidarity in stopping the epidemic, which more and more affects the
poorest of the poor," the minister said.
   Minister Gedeon also noted that positive results could lead to an
extension of the trials.
   The health minister also called on the developed world to demonstrate
its solidarity in the struggle against AIDS by freeing poor countries from
the crushing burden of their foreign debt. Such a gesture, she noted, would
mean that the governments of such countries would have a little more to
spend on the AIDS pandemic.
   There were other joint anti-AIDS actions launched in August by Haitian
groups in conjunction with counterparts in neighboring Dominican Republic.
   The leaders of the two major anti-AIDS organizations in each country,
the Association of National Solidarity (ASON) and the Network of HIV-
positive Dominicans (REDOVIH+) met at the end of August to work together on
island-wide projects. The two countries share the Caribbean island of
   The meeting came in the aftermath of an international conference on
women and HIV/AIDS in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic,
organized by the Women's Health Collective (CMS).
   During the Aug. 9 conference, whose theme was 'Women and HIV/AIDS in the
Caribbean', Haitians and Dominicans acknowledged the need to work together
to reduce the rate of infection in the two countries, according to Marionne
Benoit, the program coordinator for the Dominican and Haitian networks.
   Public education and prevention campaigns will be launched in the
island's most affected regions with the support of other trans-border
institutions. A network will also be established among the two
associations' members to encourage more communication among HIV-positive
people in the two countries.
   The leaders of the Dominican group acknowledged that they had much to
learn from the experiences of Haitians. The Dominican government has not
yet developed any national AIDS policy, said the secretary general of ASON,
who was invited to talk about his experiences fighting AIDS in Haiti.
   Comparative data on the progression of the epidemic around the world was
published at the end of 1999 by the Joint United Nations Program on AIDs
(UNAIDS). The estimated rate of infection among adults in the Dominican
Republic is about three percent. Figures in the same report estimate
infection on the Haitian side of the border to be about twice as high, or
six percent.