|A Haitian woman living with HIV holds her baby in a clinic operated by a UNICEF-supported non-governmental organization. The child is free of HIV.|
Children in Haiti are still reeling from the impact of the 12 January 2010 earthquake. Here is one in a series of stories on the long road from relief to recovery, a year later.
NEW YORK, USA, 12 January 2011 – In a Haiti still struggling to recover from last year’s devastating earthquake, evidence of UNICEF’s response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic there can be found in some unexpected places – even among children at play.
Bianca, 12, a girl from Carrefour whose older sister died in the earthquake, is one of the young people benefitting from a sport programme run by the Haitian Olympic Committee, a UNICEF partner. “When I am playing,” she says, “I don’t have time to think about my sister’s death.”
Between games, Bianca may also get information she can one day use to protect herself and others. Programmes like this not only provide sporting activities to help children overcome trauma and build confidence, but also deliver information on HIV prevention, family planning and other key topics.
That knowledge is vital in Haiti today. The earthquake created conditions that increased young people’s vulnerability to HIV, especially in displaced persons’ camps, where access to services for preventing transmission of the virus may be limited.
UNICEF’s response to these challenges includes a partnership formed with FOSREF, a Haitian non-governmental organization providing comprehensive education on life skills to young people living in residential centres, camps and surrounding areas. Relevant skills include communication techniques for discussing sex and condom use, and negotiation strategies for delaying sex.
|© UNICEF Haiti/2011/Van den Brule|
|Bianca, 12, who lost her sister in the Haiti earthquake, finds solace amongst her new friends through sport.|
The partnership also provides HIV prevention services, such as training peer educators and treating sexually transmitted infections in youth-friendly health centres. These services directly benefit 7,000 adolescents and young people, and indirectly help tens of thousands more.
A shattered country
But the earthquake did not simply raise the risks associated with HIV. It also put a severe strain on systems already in place to help women and children affected by the virus.
The need is great. In 2009, before the earthquake struck, an estimated 120,000 people in Haiti were living with HIV, including 1.9 per cent of adults. Sixty-one per cent of HIV-positive Haitians aged 15 and above were women, and 12,000 children were living with the virus.
Before the disaster struck, about 26,000 people in Haiti were receiving anti-retroviral drugs for HIV and AIDS. According to a 2010 UNAIDS report, however, the country’s Ministry of Health estimated that fewer than 40 per cent had access to treatment following the earthquake.
As the emergency unfolded, Haiti’s two primary treatment providers for people living with HIV and AIDS – the NGOs Partners in Health and GHESKIO – did an excellent job of continuing clinic-based services, including anti-retroviral drug therapy and prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission.
|© UNICEF Haiti/2011/Van den Brule|
|Children in Haiti engage in an hour of recreation daily through a programme of the Haitian Olympic Committee, where chess is a popular activity.|
But there was no service or organization responsible for tracking down missing patients – or for such community-based activities as HIV prevention, supporting families affected by the virus, distributing condoms or providing AIDS information in the camps.
The global community shares responsibility for these shortfalls in the post-quake HIV and AIDS response in Haiti. As for the United Nations, it acknowledges its own part in the outcome and is learning from the experience.
According to a 2010 UNAIDS report, HIV and AIDS concerns were poorly integrated into the clusters of UN agencies working together to guide the emergency response. Today, there is a clear understanding among the key partners that the post-disaster situation should be handled differently.
Even before the earthquake, organizations delivering HIV care and services in Haiti faced significant challenges. And the country’s recent cholera epidemic has placed major demands on medical and public health resources.
But rather than focusing on obstacles, UNICEF is concentrating on the pressing needs in Haiti. And so this week, as Haiti marks the first anniversary of the earthquake, UNICEF and its partners continue to support the health and survival of women and children confronted by HIV and AIDS in the quake zone.
Earthquake in Haiti