A year after the devastating earthquake struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the situation is still dire for those living amongst the rubble of the nation. Survivors of the quake are currently facing a cholera epidemic, a political crisis, and a broken economy.
But in addition to those widely known difficulties, Haiti is facing a continuing AIDS epidemic which is claiming the lives of more adults in the country than any other factor according to Dr. Jean W. Pape, the founder of Port-au-Prince based organization GHESKIO. Pape’s organization provides medical aid for the population and treatment for those affected with HIV and AIDS, a threat that has plagued the nation long before the earthquake.
“Haiti was the country most affected by HIV outside of Africa,” Pape told a Concordia audience on Thursday, adding that “in this hemisphere [Haiti] has the worst situation in terms of natural mortality, the highest prevalence of cervical cancer, the highest prevalence of TB, and the least infrastructure to deal with all this.”
Pape’s lecture was largely centered on the history of AIDS within the country. He discussed how the disease was not widely known in the early eighties and described the challenges physicians faced in trying to determine its cause, how it was treated and how it was transferred.
“Forty-nine per cent of the women who acquired AIDS” in 1983 were infected from blood transfusions said Pape, adding that IV drug use was another common factor.
As it spread throughout the country, their main concern shifted to controlling the epidemic and developing a method of prevention and treatment, difficult tasks for many reasons.
“This may appear naive,” Pape said, “but at that time there were very powerful scientists who didn’t think that it was possible to introduce those complex treatments in the developing world.”
But before last year’s earthquake, it seemed that the problem was on the mend. According to Pape, The national rate of HIV/AIDS dropped from 6.2 per cent in 1993 to 2.2 per cent in 2006.
Of course, once the quake hit GHESKIO had to shift its focus. The organization which once had had 26,000 patients on antiretroviral therapy was instead setting up field hospitals with the help of the UN, stopping enrolment in all research projects, stopping all training and concentrating on over 7,000 earthquake victims.
Pape stated that HIV will make the latest cholera outbreak worse for those affected, but whether or not the earthquake has had an impact on the AIDS situation is not as easy to establish.
“The question I’m asked all the time, is HIV rate worse now in Haiti than it was before the quake,” he said, “the is that we don’t know.”