WASHINGTON — When Haitian Esther Boucicault first discovered she had contracted the HIV/AIDS virus, she was emotionally devastated. But soon her feelings of self pity gave way to action and she began a journey to stop the spread of the deadly disease.
“I had to put a face to it,” said Boucicault.
Put a face to it she did. Boucicault was the first person to go on Haitian TV and discussed what it was like living with HIV/AIDS. This was a bold move, particularity considering that Haiti still stigmatizes people with this disease.
“They were very shocked,” said Boucicault. “They did not think that someone who had HIV/AIDS would announce this.”
That was 16 years ago. Now, Boucicault is an HIV/AIDS activist who was among a Haitian delegation that descended on Capitol Hill Tuesday. The group lobbied Congress to add an additional $100 million to the already $1.6 billion 2010 Supplemental Request for earthquake recovery in Haiti.
According to Boucicault, what’s not included in the supplemental request is funding for HIV/AIDS health care services that were disrupted as a result of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti.
A joint report by the Department of State and USAID estimates that the earthquake which hit Haiti destroyed 46 hospitals and clinics and severely damaged 38 more. At least $373 million in infrastructure and supplies were lost. HIV/AIDS treatment centers in Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, Leogane and Petit Goave have been destroyed.
The earthquake that struck Haiti killed an estimated 217,000 people, injuring approximately 300,000 and displacing over 1 million, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. An estimated half a million people have been forced to leave the capital, Port-au-Prince, and migrate to other areas not directly affected by the quake.
“The HIV/AIDS epidemic is going to only get worse,” said Boucicault. “This threatens to undermine the progress battling HIV/AIDS in Haiti.”
More than 1 million Haitians are living in tent cities; many are sleeping in the street or in rubble from the earthquake. Fewer than 40 percent of Haitians who were receiving HIV/AIDS-related care before the earthquake receive it now according to UNAIDS.
There are 120,000 Haitians living with HIV/AIDS, 47 percent of all people with the virus in the Caribbean.
Boucicault also is accusing Haitian officials of barding food, water and tents for sexual favors, resulting in the likely spread of HIV/AIDS.
“Corruption continues, Boucicault said. “It’s rampant.”
Boucicault is the founder of the FEBS Foundation. It provides preventive HIV/AIDS services, psycho-social support and on-going case management services for people that are living with the virus.
The earthquake left Boucicault’s offices in tact, but her work has become harder because there have had an influx of new HIV/AIDS patients looking for treatment.
“I have to service them, too,” Boucicault said.
Boucicault also does outreach to people living with HIV/AIDS in tent cities.
“People with HIV/AIDS have to have a voice in the reconstruction of Haiti,” said Boucicault. “Funding should be directed into communities that really need these HIV/AIDS services.”