Since the 1980s when the first cases of AIDS were registered, the rate of sero-prevalence has not stopped increasing. More than 5% of the adult population of Haiti is infected. Surveys have revealed a lack of information, linked to the characteristics of people who are rooted in superstitions.
Having established this fact, the persons in charge of Public Health, in partnership with numerous national and international organizations have set up the Caravan project for the year 2000. In this initiative, which will take place in various cities of Haiti, certain artist and many youth participate. The Caravan is a campaign which disseminates information related to AIDS and sensitizes the population about this epidemic.
After Jacmel, St-Marc, Gonaives and Port-de-Paix, during 18-20 August, Les Cayes and Miragoane have hosted the Caravan of Artists and Youth against AIDS.
The procession of the Caravan consisted, among other, of representatives of the ministry of Public Health, including its Minister Michaelle Amédée Gédéon, Dr Joelle Deas Van Onacker in charge of the STD/AIDS unit, the youth of Volunteers for the Development of Haiti (VDH), representatives of the Association for National Solidarity (ASON), UNAIDS, FOSREF and the Panos Institute. It made its first stop in Miragoane.
The usual activities of the Caravan of Artist and Youth against AIDS were launched in the afternoon of 18 August with a ceremony at the Health Coordination Office of the town, featuring testimonies of HIV infected people and messages of several health officials.
Miragoane has a commercial port, exposing it to an uncontrollable renewed outbreak of the illness, the Minister of Health said. Aware of the catastrophic impact that the spread of the virus might have in the region, the Caravan initiators frankly explained the situation to the audience and informed them on the precautions which are available to protect oneself from the scourge.
Dr Michael Amedee Gedeon emphasized: “AIDS is neither politics nor a supernatural illness,” as many youth want to believe. “AIDS exists and is contracted – with few exceptions – from risky sexual behaviour.” She explained: “There is no drug that cures AIDS completely, as is the case with tuberculosis, syphilis or malaria.”
One thing is sure: “With much willingness, we can banish AIDS from Haiti. And you, young people, you are the main actors by adopting safe sexual behaviour,” she underlined.
Dr Jocelyne Pierre Louis, Public Health Director for the region, declared that youth represents the major labour force of the country and it must remain healthy to ensure the future of the country: “AIDS is a reality, but we can overcome it.”
The city of Miragoane is located at 96 kilometers from Port-au-Prince between the department of Grande Anse and the region of Nippes. This city counts a great number of prostitutes, according to Dr Pierre-Louis. If this fact is not considered in prevention programmes, it may contribute to the further spread of the illness.
For the occasion, the organizers had set up various activities: a parade with the youth fanfare at the market; the showing of movies; youth meetings and concerts, all in the scope of their crusade against AIDS.
Two people living with HIV/AIDS, Esther Stanislas Bourcicault and Christian Jules shared with the audience, mostly youth, their hope to see the complete eradication of AIDS in Haiti. They officially took the commitment to lead thousands of people to realize the urgency of practicing responsible behaviour.
“I suffer so much from the disease of AIDS that I would never like to see other people getting infected,” Jules explained who recognized that he had practiced irresponsible behaviour towards his life and his family. Being diagnosed HIV-positive for more than a year, this father has much advice for the youth: “Your only protection is to be cautious. Once you become the target, it will not miss you,” he affirmed.
Mme Bourcicault also told the youth about all the pain she endures: “At a critical moment of my illness, I was ugly to look at. I had at the same time tuberculosis, zona, bruises and spots all over my body, which was just a thin and pale skeleton.” She urged the audience to use this opportunity and benefit from the work of the Caravan and act to protect oneself. “If only I had ever benefitted myself from the commitment, the courage and testimonies of so many individuals, never I would have been infected … We are here present to prove to you that AIDS exists.”
“God has given me life, this is the reason I have the courage to come and tell you to pay attention to AIDS. It does not always manifest itself physically. The best way to block its transmission is to not trust anybody,” she advised.
In Les Cayes, the youth ambassador of Les Cayes, Rose Ivica Roche, and the youth representative at the opening ceremony, Rose Mirlie Joseph, testified of the commitment of local youth to fight against AIDS.
“Do not seek sexual intercourse, the oxygen of your life, otherwise you will end up discovering infinite horror,” Miss Roche advised her comrades further adding that “youth is too short for losing even the littlest part of it and too important to use it to futile things.”
Miss Joseph continued on the same theme. She urged the youth to become aware and block AIDS: “Because we are the hope of the country. Let us reawaken this hope. I invite you, dear young people, to rise up and build your future by fighting against AIDS,” she affirmed.
In both cities, the activities culminated in a concert given by the artists Boulo Valcourt, Azor and other well-known and less well-known Haitian artists who have shown the same motivation: fighting against AIDS.
The Caravan of Youth and Artist has adopted the goal to significantly reduce the transmission of HIV/AIDS throughout Haiti, from now to 2010, one of the persons in charge said.
Male and female condoms and information pamphlets were distributed among the crowd by the youth of VDH during the activities.