“In Port-au-Prince day-to-day life is difficult for POZ’s team. We are living in a state of fear and anxiety, never knowing what tomorrow will bring,” says Myrna Eustache, director of POZ. “Nevertheless, in spite of the many problems we are facing, staff get themselves to work by 8.30am at the latest to provide care to our patients. We try as much as possible to carry out our main activities.”
Despite limited access to electricity, clean water and food, and many staff losing loved ones and all their belongings in the earthquake, POZ restarted its work from temporary tents on 1 February. This has included offering clinical care, counselling and psychosocial support. POZ is also running activities in the temporary camps to tackle stigma and discrimination.
According to the UN, the three areas most affected by the earthquake also had more than half of all the antiretroviral treatment sites. Haiti’s Ministry of Health estimates that less than 40% of the 24,000 people living with HIV who were on treatment before the earthquake have accessed ARVs since. Finding these people and helping them restart their treatment is absolutely urgent.
“Now, more than ever, people living with HIV need support,” says Myrna. “With the help of the Alliance, we are trying to find the 2,000 people living with HIV and from vulnerable groups who were accessing the services offered by POZ before the earthquake. We have already found more than 70% of them and have plans in place to find the remaining 30%”.
POZ is continuing to focus on the three areas of Jacmel, Cap Haitien and Port-au-Prince, working with outreach workers, community leaders and health service providers. But they are also adapting to the new circumstances. One example is their communications campaign, which will now not only be using radio but also “Truck Sound” to reach the people that are in the shelters and camps, and face-to-face visits from outreach workers going from tent to tent.
The UN estimates that around 60% of the 1.3 million people made homeless by the earthquake have received tents and work has started to build long-lasting shared accommodation for a greater number of people. But providing shelter to homeless HIV service users before the rainy season starts remains one of the most urgent challenges facing POZ.
Elsewhere in Port-au-Prince life has slowly started again, and some schools and universities have re-opened. “Going back to school is vital”, says Myrna, “because children need somewhere other than their house or the temporary camps to learn to start life again and to overcome their fear”.
UNAIDS estimates that an additional US$ 70 million is needed for the next six months alone to meet Haiti’s immediate HIV needs. But despite the challenges and personal losses all the staff at POZ have faced, they remain determined. POZ’s management team has not just been working to restart their day-to-day projects, but also to secure the long-term sustainability of the organisation and its work. It is slow and hard but POZ is making progress. They have now found a new building that they will be moving into shortly, which will mark a big step forward.
"2010 is not going to be easy for POZ but we will battle on," says Myrna. “Haiti pap peri. Haiti will not perish.”
The Alliance is working with donors to try and increase the level of funds going to Haiti to support HIV service access, and is providing direct financial, programme and personal support to POZ. Alliance staff and friends have also raised nearly £9,000 personally so far to support their colleagues in POZ. A meeting room at the Alliance’s secretariat has been named after Samuel Alcius, a young social worker who lost his life on 12 January in terrible circumstances.
2010 is not going to be easy for POZ but we will battle on. . . Haiti will not perish