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Rescuing Haiti's HIV/AIDS patients

Among the many aftershocks of the Haitian earthquake is that it left thousands of HIV/AIDS patients in dire need of medical help, including medication. Before the quake, Haiti was doing a credible job of caring for these patients, thanks to the efforts of a number of nonprofits, including Partners in Health and a clinic in Port-au-Prince known as Gheskio. But Gheskio, which cares for more than half of the country’s AIDS patients, was shattered by the temblor, and its operations have been thrown into chaos as a result of the catastrophe, according to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal.

One report in the New York Times described an AIDS patient, 38 years old and pregnant, wandering the street in search of help. She had walked three hours to a downtown clinic from a tent city in the slum of City Soleil. “Having missed an appointment the day after the earthquake, she had run out of pills and found herself racked by diarrhea and vomiting - on the streets, no less,” the Times reported.

Haiti has one of the highest rates of HIV outside sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated 120,000 people living with the infection, according to UNAIDS. The prevalence rate among adults is 2.2 percent. Many of these patients are on antiretroviral treatment, but the rule of thumb is that these drugs have to be taken with clockwork regularity to remain effective. Patients who don’t follow a strict regimen not only leave themselves vulnerable to illness but are also at risk of developing drug-resistant forms of the virus. So making these drugs available to patients on a regular basis is critically important.

In response to the crisis, the Ford Foundation announced it will provide $250,000 to the Clinton Health Access Initiative to help maintain Haiti’s HIV/AIDS Services. The two organizations had been working in Haiti before the quake to strengthen the country’s HIV/AIDS programs. “HIV was a crisis in Haiti before the earthquake,” the foundation’s president, Luis Ubinas, said in a press release. “It is essential that HIV treatment is integrated into the crisis response. Emerging from this tragedy we have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to help build a strong and effective system of prevention and treatment that endures for the future.”

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