Haiti – the country most affected by HIV in the Caribbean region – needs the world’s support in bolstering its defence against the spread of AIDS in the wake of last month’s catastrophic earthquake, according to a United Nations report.
“It is unprecedented to have such a huge natural disaster in a country with a high HIV prevalence,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), which issued the new publication.
Before the 12 January quake, there were approximately 120,000 people living with HIV in Haiti, out of a total population of some 3 million. The country’s epidemic is driven largely by heterosexual sex and more than half of those living with HIV are women.
Most of the structural damage caused by the magnitude-7.0 quake occurred in three departments – Sud-Est, les Nippes and Ouest, where the capital, Port-au-Prince is located – where nearly 60 per cent of all people living with HIV in Haiti reside. More than half of the antiretroviral treatment sites in Haiti are also situated in those three departments.
With over 1 million people taking refuge in temporary shelters, they are at greater risk of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, Mr. Sidibé said. “Programmes are urgently needed to reduce vulnerabilities to HIV and ensure protection.”
Makeshift treatment clinics under tents have popped up to increase access to treatment, but the Ministry of Health estimates that less than 40 per cent of the 24,000 people living with HIV who were on treatment before the disaster have access them.
As Haiti experiences a critical interruption of HIV services and programmes, stepped up support is vital for the country to allow it to regain momentum towards reaching universal access goals for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.
The new UNAIDS report has identified seven priority areas, including rebuilding health systems, protecting the displaced from HIV and revitalizing HIV prevention programmes.
Haiti’s annual AIDS budget was $132 million prior to the earthquake, and UNAIDS believes that an extra $70 million will be necessary to meet the country’s immediate response needs over the next six months.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported today that some 285,000 houses had been damaged or destroyed in the earthquake, and Government and humanitarian organizations, as well as engineers, are working to register the displaced and plan relocation sites for those who cannot return to their homes.
Spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs said that creating adequate sanitary conditions and waste disposal systems is also essential to mitigate the risk of a large-scale outbreak of disease.
She announced that the $1.44 billion revised humanitarian appeal launched earlier this month by the UN and its aid partners – the largest ever in the wake of a natural disaster – is 48 per cent funded, but expressed concern that the portion for agriculture has only received 8 per cent of the funds requested.
Haiti’s educational system, said Marc Vergara of the agency, virtually ceased to function in affected areas, leaving some 2.5 million children out of school after the earthquake.
Together with the Ministry of Education, UNICEF is helping to establish over 150 tent schools to get children back to school before April.
With more than half of school-age children not attending classes prior to the quake, the agency’s goal is to “build back better” to create conditions to allow many young Haitians to attend school for the first time.