How efforts in Haiti have helped cut the rate of HIV infection

As Columbus lowered his anchor into Bay Des Moustiques on the North Shore of the island he named Hispaniola, he had no idea of the historical travesty that he was about to unleash on this New World.

Within 15 years the indigenous population of Hayti (the original name for Haiti) would be eradicated by diseases against which the local inhabitants had no immunity. The Arawak Indians of the Caribbean would literally all be wiped out within the first 50 years of the colonization of the New World, and many other great civilizations would follow. Colonialism would be the spark that set diseases on a global migration that continues today.

One legacy of the spread of HIV in Haiti is the intervention of Dr. Paul Farmer and his organization, Partners in Health. In seeking a treatment model for HIV-AIDS and MDR-TB (Multi Drug Resistant Tuberculosis), PIH worked outside the normal boundaries of modern, traditional medicine using a more holistic approach. Dr. Farmer instead has focused his work on providing free care while developing a system to attack the disease at the common sources such as poverty, illiteracy and lack of medical care.

Much of this model for the treatment of HIV-AIDS in Haiti has been used in a number of other countries for HIV and TB, attacking the societal and political conditions that cause the disease to spread. Much of PIH’s approach centers on providing sources of clean water, food, education and dedicated housing for patient care.

So what has been the result of Dr. Farmer’s work in Haiti? The infection rate has been reduced to a level lower than some of the other more modern and developed countries in the Caribbean and the Western Hemisphere. Much of the decrease in transmission has been seen by dealing with the problems of the sex trade, and societal changes that reduce the number of sexual partners and focus on ending the exploitation of children.

PIH has reached out to form partnerships with government and non-government agencies to further its goals in Haiti and many other countries around the globe. PIH is affiliated with Harvard University and its School of Public Health, which has been a leader in the worldwide fight against infectious diseases. Much of the success of the PIH model is its commitment to training and employing local residents to take on the challenges in their own country. Only a very small percentage of the entire staff of PIH is American.

To learn more about Dr. Farmer and his work in Haiti and other parts of the world, get a copy of the book about the Haiti project by Tracy Kidder: “Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World.”

About the author: Larry Bailly is a lifelong Snohomish County resident. He has traveled to Haiti since 2002, taking teams from Snohomish Community Church to do medical and construction outreach. He is also a member of the Snohomish area RESULTS group. You can contact him at baillybusbarn@juno.com.

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