Jamra primary scholl for children affected by HIV/AIDS, drugs or poverty, Senegal (c) Nell Freeman/Alliance Participants in the Photovioce project, Ecuador © Marcela Nievas for the Alliance

Haiti – one year on


POZ currently operates from this tent

“The physical damage of the buildings is really shocking to see,” says Anamaria Bejar, head of the Alliance’s Latin America and Caribbean team at the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

Anamaria visited, Promoteurs d’Objectif Zerosida (POZ) in Haiti just before Christmas to see how they are coping nearly a year on from the devastating earthquake that tore apart the capital Port au Prince.

“Pieces of concrete are still lying over each other and vast areas of the city are covered in blue plastic sheets – the roofs of people’s homes: tents.”

Centre Espoir, the HIV and AIDS service centre of POZ is one of them. “We couldn’t see even the traces of the once beautiful old style house that was the Centre Espoir we used to visit,” says Anamaria sadly. “However, POZ has managed to restore one room that together with the tent are the new POZ headquarters.

“It’s so shocking but what I found even more shocking is that despite the billions of dollars donated by the international community there are still  nearly 1.3 million people living in tents in refugee camps,” Anamaria explains.

Work continues

Despite the devastation, POZ continues its work reaching out to those people who are living with HIV and helping people from getting it. Particularly vulnerable are many young women who are turning to sex work to earn a living.

Forty women were reportedly arrested for sex work in September last year from the Champs de Mar camp near the damaged Presidential Palace. It is a worrying sign of how desperate the situation still is.

“Police crackdowns often mean that women who are trying to earn a living through sex work to feed their families will be pushed further underground which makes it harder for the likes of POZ and other community organisations to reach them with HIV services.”

Dr Gislene Mezadieu is an obstetrician who works for POZ. “We are very concerned about AIDS right now. Some people aren’t using protection because they’ve stopped caring. They say, ‘my mother died, my friend died, nothing else is important.

“While condoms are readily available in some areas, they are difficult to come by in others.  Distribution methods need to take into account the Haitian culture,” she says.

By mid last year over 1,000 international organisations had provided humanitarian assistance in Haiti and two billion dollars in aid had been allocated.

“The much needed help is not being provided quickly enough, partly because most of the funds are not currently managed by the Haitians,” explained Anamaria. “There are lot of good intentions, good will and some achievements but the task is enormous and according to the UN surpasses any previous humanitarian operation.

 “While Haitians from the government and civil society don’t lead operations and manage the financial resources themselves very little will change in the long-run. Just being with the staff of POZ and seeing how they cope is inspiring. We must continue to support the people of Haiti and ensure that the funds provided reach those most in need. That means Haitians decide what is needed in their communities and are provided with the funds to implement it,” says Anamaria.

“In the middle of all the rubble and tents, Haitians keep living with incredible resilience producing beautiful art, music and showing the world that Haitian culture has a lot to give the world,” she adds.

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