Haiti: Displacement, TB, and Progress?

Walking into the media center at the 2010 World AIDS Conference was like being barraged. I came out of lectures to have people read my tag as media and then offer a plethora of business cards. Attend our press conference. Highlight us. Be in the know. Do good. OK. I will. The sense of being overwhelmed came from the fact that what everyone presented showed exactly how deep our world's public health crisis already is in terms of HIV/AIDS as well as related diseases, but also how much worse it could become if funding is less than needed due to the economic crisis.

Paul Farmer has worked in wide-ranging capacities for vulnerable communities the entire length of his career. His book Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor was a guide in my travels through South Africa pre- and post-Comrades and during the World Cup 2010. Thus, when I saw his name on a press release in Vienna, I decided to trust his voice about what the worlds’ needs are at a conference concentrating on health and human rights, before they may be fully acknowledged or funded.

TB Alliance shares that as of today, there are 2.2 billion people who are infected with Tuberculosis (TB) and it is the leading infectious killer of people with HIV/AIDS. TB kills more women than all other mortality causes combined. It is spread through the air when someone who is infected coughs, sneezes, or spits. According to TB Alliance's web site, "94 percent of TB cases and 98 percent of TB deaths occur in developing countries—and often affecting the poorest of the poor within those countries."

Farmer, who was named United Nations Deputy Special Envoy to Haiti in 2009 to help improve the economic and social conditions and has worked in the Caribbean nation for 28 years, says Haiti faces a tuberculosis crisis. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2008 Global Tuberculosis Control Report cites Haiti had an estimated 28,290 new TB cases in 2006. 32 percent of HIV/AIDS patients are also infected with TB.

Already the poorest country in the Western hemisphere with 80 percent of the population living in abject poverty, in January 2010 the massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake heavily damaged Port-au-Prince, Haiti's main city, and left many homeless. Seven months post-quake, 1.2 million people are still displaced from the earthquake and living in tent cities. Hurricane season is upon them and with that many people remaining in such a vulnerable situation, the outlook for these displaced Haitians looks grim, unless housing conditions improve quickly.

Farmer closed his discussion by citing that the perception of Haiti was that nothing was working pre-earthquake but in fact the country had been making progress by building strong systems and strong institutions. In fact, the reason he says HIV/AIDS is not their main concern over TB is because the country has made significant strides in combating it, though they still have far to go. With the risks of hurricane season approaching, aid to this deeply struggling country would build model villages for the over one million people in need of homes and begin to dismantle what will otherwise be an exceptional arena for a TB outbreak.

Rape a Part of Daily Life for Women in Haitian Relief Camps [Ms. Blog]

Partner to the Poor, Paul Farmer's newest book, is a collection of 30 years of his writing about bringing comfort and medical care to some of the poorest people in the world. It is available from University of California Press. A portion of all proceeds will be donated to Partners in Health.

Photo credit: FCC Haiti team