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Aiding HIV-Positive Haitians

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Nbroverman

Of the 9.7 million people in Haiti, approximately 200,000 are living with HIV. Following Tuesday's catastrophic 7.0 earthquake near the capital of Port-au-Prince, attention has focused on getting food, water, and medical supplies to the injured. But what about the antiretrovirals that, in recent years, have helped curb the infection rate in the Caribbean nation? Aid for AIDS International, a New York-based nonprofit that provides HIV medications and education to third-world countries, is working to address that issue -- the organization's executive director Jesus Aguais tells us how.

Are AIDS medications being sent to Haiti along with supplies like food and water?
They're not. We're not aware of anybody sending medication, especially for people with HIV. We get reports from people who survived the earthquake that have HIV, people that were on treatment, who say the hospital they were being treated at collapsed. There's also a shortage of [all] medicine in Haiti, so what we are doing here for AIDS is a direct response -- calling all the people living with HIV in the United States that have extra HIV-positive medicine at this time. We need it sealed and not expired.

There are many reasons why people with HIV have sealed and unexpired medicine in their medicine cabinet. One is because they're resistant. Another is they can't tolerate the medicine and they just happen to have it. We've also been calling anybody who has any type of basic antibiotic. We're asking people to send it to us -- we have the team and infrastructure to figure out what works and what doesn't. You cannot send medicine directly to Haiti, you cannot send it to any other organizations; people are focusing on other stuff. We're the only one that we are aware of focusing on assessing these types of medicines, especially medicines coming from other people. We have a team here collecting and checking unexpired, unopened medication we can send to Haiti.

And people can send medications directly to you in New York?
If they're in the New York City area, they can call our office at (212) 337-8043. People can also check our website: aidforaids.org. If they are out of state, they can mail it to us, they can call and arrange how we can pick it up. Once we get it, we can get it to Haiti in two days. We send shipments everyday. We sent a shipment today, we sent our first [on Thursday]. We're going to need to do this for a while -- the situation in Haiti is bad, it's really bad. It's not going to get stable right away.

Some people are skeptical about donating money to organizations -- this is a way to help. Even if you buy a bottle of Advil that you don't use, send it to us. Anything helps in Haiti right now.

Your organization is sending it directly to Port-au-Prince?
We're partnering with an organization called Housing Works, they're based here in New York, and they're transferring it to Haiti.

Have you been able to get through to those in Haiti? Have you heard what's it like for HIV-positive people?
Yes, my friend Charles King, he's the president of Housing Works, is down in Haiti right now. The worry [for HIV-positive Haitians] is about treatment interruption. That could be chaotic not only for people living with HIV but once the virus increases [within someone's body], chances of spreading the virus increases as well. It's chaotic, obviously. People with HIV have to deal with [getting their medications], in addition to not knowing where their family members are and everything else we're seeing right now on TV. HIV is one of the many problems the island is battling right now.

Before the earthquake you aided HIV efforts in the Caribbean. Was Haiti one of the places your organization worked?
Absolutely. We sent medications to Haiti, especially to people that had no access to certain kinds of medicine. We're very familiar with the island.

I imagine you're concerned about the long-term ramifications of HIV rates backsliding there.
Absolutely. But this happened [days ago] -- we just need to take it one day at a time.

If people don't have medication to give, and want to contribute financially, where do you recommend they donate to?
I suggest donating to the Red Cross. The money will go directly to Haiti. I would only give to organizations that can guarantee that they will [get it] to Haiti. Right now, we guarantee the medicine we donate will get screened, be sealed, and get to the proper people.

Nbroverman
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Neal Broverman

Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.
Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.