“Young people, friends, I don’t come to share sorrow with you, but a word of hope to all youth who want to know that responsible love is the best code of conduct for the protection and fullness of life. Together we will defy AIDS.”
That’s how on 20 July the seropositive and valiant Esther Bourcicault Stanislas, speaking in her home-town Saint-Marc at the opening of the Caravan of Youth and Artists against AIDS, bravely called on youth to take their destiny in their own hands.
The first stop of this tour of the Caravan was made in this city, which is situated at 96 km from Port-au-Prince. The tour would visit, during five days, the Departments of the Artibonite and the North-West. All activities focused on the awareness and commitment of youth for the triumph of life over death.
On behalf of the Association for National Solidarity (ASON), a group of persons infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, Jean Saurel Beaujour unreservedly presented the determination of the members of the association to pursue the fight until the final victory, in spite of the pain that the illness brings to people living with HIV/AIDS.
Tested positive since about seven years, the executive secretary of ASON said that he pays today for his disbelief and non-respect for his marital home. “You other youth, I urge you to not do the same,” Jean Saurel Beaujour spoke. “Today, you may have a lover and tomorrow a spouse, after that your own family. Be faithful and very alert, because AIDS is very cunning,” he said.
Before an audience of about 250 persons, mostly young, Paul Pollux, mayor of St-Marc, gave the floor to Bernard Hadjadj, president of UNAIDS in Haiti, to Dr Joelle Deas Van Onacker, Director of the National Unit to Combat Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS (STD-AIDS), and to the testimonies of seropositives. All speakers emphasized the theme: commitment for a better tomorrow in a world without AIDS!
“To the parents, I ask you not to act as policemen towards your children,” Dr Deas urged. “To combat AIDS efficiently, we must listen, learn and live with the youth and children, the force of change and mobilize them in campaigns,” she added.
Throughout the entire second tour of the Caravan, the youth of Saint-Marc as well as of Gonaives and Port-de-Paix demonstrated that one can count on them in this fight for life. This was also the case in Jacmel where the first tour of the Caravan took place on 13 May.
The Caravan which has visited four cities, will carry out its next tour to the cities of Miragoane (Grande Anse/South West) and Les Cayes (South) during 18-20 August 2000. The campaign will visit the North, the North East, the Central Plateau and the island of La Gonave in the West, during the next three months.
Through songs of commitment, theatre, short speeches and debate, youth demonstrated their frustration regarding AIDS and their commitment to fight this scourge that does not respect anyone.
“AIDS has no opposition, the best is to remain calm,” the youth Mirma Jean-Louis of Gonaives said forcefully, while getting ready to participate in the march of youth against AIDS on 21 July 2000 in the afternoon.
The youth, participating in the debates on many sites of activity of the Caravan, all hope that one day this epidemic will end. “Through this serious campaign, jointly carried out by UNAIDS, the Haitian government, as well as national and international NGOs, we will one day sing the funeral of AIDS,” Junior Joseph from Saint-Marc is convinced.
Junior, who is 19, saw the film “Why me?” (Pouki se mwen) at the cinema “Colombe,” a film to prevent HIV/AIDS. In the midst of 100 other youth, he confessed: “Two years ago, I did not take any talk on AIDS serious, but today, seeing the damage done by the epidemic in my surroundings, I am aware of the reality that it represents.”
Resolutely determined to preach the trilogy “abstinence, condom, faithfulness,” Guillaume Alabre, 20 years old, encourages his friends to have a test so that they know their status.
Moved by the testimony of Christian Jules, HIV-positive and member of ASON, who was called upon to share a message with the youth, Nedjie Dominique thinks that all Haitians, without distinction of class or profession should from now on be aware in particular of the problems of people living with HIV and of the very problematics of AIDS in general. She is 17 and a member of the “United Brothers Fanfare” of Saint-Marc.
“It’s pity if you’re infected, but take heart and protect the others. If you are not infected, give thanks to God and take the decision that you will never be infected, and participate in the raising of awareness of others,” she urged forcefully.
Like Claudette Mesidor from Port-de-Paix, the young Nedjie hopes that the discovery of a vaccin will come soon and stop the spread of AIDS. But even then, she warned: “ Caution, danger!, prevention is better than cure.”
In Port-de-Paix, prior to the visit of the Caravan, a number of youth were ignorant about the repercussions of the AIDS epidemic. “Ah, a ‘thank you!’ to the organizers of this event, which have helped me to better understand what AIDS is, and what are the dangers that the epidemic brings,” Claudette Mesidor told. She works in a hotel in the city of Port-de-Paix. She admits that many young people in the city do not consider AIDS to be a reality.
“The Caravan comes just in time,” she said smiling.
Moved by the statistical data regarding the prevalence of people living with HIV in the North-West, Philia Louis believes that the challenge is difficult. “However, with the commitment from the public and private sectors and the people living with HIV in the fight against the propagation of the illness in the country, we can expect better days. For, difficult is not impossible,” she stated.
According to data published by Haitian specialists in December 1998, the North-West Department has a total of about 20,000 infected persons, and is among the country’s five regions which are struck heaviest by HIV.
The Departments of the West and the North, who occupy the first two positions, count respectively 185,000 and 45,000 people living with HIV/AIDS. The next three are at equal levels: North-West, Artibonite and Grande-Anse (South-West).
The North-East has about 6,000 people living with HIV/AIDS and is placed last in the country’s table of sero-prevalence. Haiti and Guyana are the most heavily struck countries of the Caribbean region.
These figures only give an idea of the levels of HIV-prevalence in the various parts of Haiti during recent years. The projections provided by Haitian specialists, who published their study in October 1998 under the title “Population and Development – The need to act,” indicate that 6 persons are newly infected each hour.
The same study states that every day 110 deaths in the country are attributed to AIDS, while 110 new cases of AIDS develop every day in people already infected. And the orphans of AIDS are estimated to be more than 150,000 children.