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29579: Hermantin(Editorial)Orphans of AIDS (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Orphans of AIDS

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board

November 26, 2006

ISSUE: The AIDS epidemic wreaks havoc on Haiti's most vulnerable -- the young.

Haiti seems far from our shores and consciences, but its ills, as well as those of other nations in the hemisphere, are bound to impact South Florida. One of the greatest tests before the Caribbean basin, and our own community, is the ongoing scourge of AIDS.

Eight million people live in Haiti; half of them are under age 14 and too many of these youngsters are without parents. Due to poverty, disease and violence, 15 percent of Haiti's children are orphans, the highest percentage in the hemisphere and one of the highest in the world. The AIDS virus is a key factor. An estimated 250,000 Haitian youngsters have lost one or both parents to AIDS.

Haiti is at a crossroads, as the South Florida Sun-Sentinel eloquently and dramatically documents in the Aids Orphans series that starts today. Its salvation, of course, will depend upon the resolve of its people. However, engagement from the developed world is crucial, especially from the United States, if our neighboring, fledgling democracy stands any chance at survival and stability.

Unfortunately, Haiti, and its neighbor the Dominican Republic, remains the poster child for a part of the world that has been ravaged by AIDS. The Caribbean region is the second most affected by AIDS, after sub-Sahara Africa, and roughly 80 percent of the HIV cases in the Caribbean can be found on Hispaniola.

While there has been progress in battling the epidemic, the trends for the region remain worrisome.

Imagine a region without its brightest professionals, its best thinkers or its most gifted artists. Think of nations void of able workers, specifically the managers, maids, waiters, bartenders and help-staff that are vital to the Caribbean's economic engine -- tourism.

The potential for continued instability is great, and should be unacceptable so close to our shores.

The AIDS Orphans four-part series describes the epidemic's cruel impact through the eyes of the island nation's most vulnerable group -- Haiti's children. The series is the culmination of a five-year effort by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel to examine the AIDS crisis in South Florida and the Caribbean.

The Kaiser Foundation, a recognized clearinghouse of AIDS research, trends and information, awarded Sun-Sentinel writer Tim Collie and staff photographer Mike Stocker a Kaiser Media Mini-Fellowship in Health to support the project's research.

This installment is poignant. It's not easy reading the stories or viewing the photos of the troubled youngsters who have been ostracized and shunned by society simply because their parents suffered from a devastating disease.

Fitz Junior is a 15-year-old who lives on the streets of Port-au-Prince. By day, he washes cars and makes dice out of dog bones. At night, he says it's worse: "They abuse me, the older kids, the men. They burn you with matches when you sleep, melt plastic containers and pour them on you while you're sleeping."

Still there is hope, thanks largely to a few special good Samaritans and some inspirational kids. Roodine Dieujuste is an 11-year-old who lived on the streets of Lachapelle, Haiti. After sitting in the streets alone for weeks, she caught the eye of a missionary's wife, who took her home and started an orphanage.

There is some good news, some positive developments, in Haiti. For starters, Haitians living with the AIDS virus can now obtain the new generation of medicines to treat the disease. President René Préval and his government are making strides and the nation's economy is showing signs of life. More importantly, the number of AIDS cases has plateaued, giving health officials signs of hope.

Haiti, however, can't do it alone. A renewed effort based on individual giving would help immensely. So will existing initiatives to spur economic development and provide AIDS relief. Having the U.S. Congress approve the so-called Hero Act to bolster manufacturing employment on the island, and granting temporary protected status to thousands of hard-working Haitians in the United States would also help.

The Caribbean can be a model in the battle against AIDS; the opportunity to accomplish that is now.

BOTTOM LINE: Renewed engagement can turn the tide against AIDS in the Caribbean.

Copyright © 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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