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 Thursday 27 May 2010
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HAITI: NGO wins award but "still so much to do"

Photo: Tamar Dressler/IRIN
As hurricane season approaches, more than one million Haitians are still homeless
NAIROBI, 19 May 2010 (PlusNews) - When the earthquake hit Port au Prince on 12 January, Bill Pape and the rest of the staff of GHESKIO, the country's largest HIV NGO, were unprepared.

"We were ready for political instability, hurricanes - the types of crises we were used to seeing in Haiti; we were certainly not ready for an earthquake," Pape, doctor and founder of the Group for the Study of Kaposi's Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections (GHESKIO), told IRIN/PlusNews.

Nevertheless, he added, "Because we are always prepared for any disaster, all our HIV and TB patients are given two weeks’ [worth of] additional medication in case they are unable to make it for their regular appointments."

Founded in 1982, GHESKIO is one of the world's oldest HIV-dedicated NGOs; it provides life-prolonging antiretroviral medication to 55 percent - an estimated 13,500 people - of all Haitians on HIV treatment.

"After the earthquake, we were able to contact our patients by phone, we sent field workers to them and made radio announcements letting people know where they could access medication," Pape said. "In three weeks, we were able to locate 94 percent of our patients; 211 were confirmed dead in the earthquake."

Gates Award

This significant reach convinced the judges of the 2010 Gates Award for Global Health to award GHESKIO a US$1 million prize in recognition of its years of research, clinical service and training in the field of HIV.

"The prize is awarded to organizations which have made a long-term impact in saving lives in the developing world, that have set an example for others to emulate," Jeffrey Sturchio, president of the Global Health Council, an alliance of public health organizations that oversees the Gates Award, told IRIN/PlusNews. "GHESKIO has been a global leader in HIV despite being in a developing country - it has been instrumental in halting the spread of HIV in Haiti.

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"The organization shows what is possible under the most difficult circumstances; GHESKIO is a world class institution that has remained rooted in the community," he added.

For Pape and his staff, the prize money will come in very handy; the organization suffered an estimated $10 million in structural damage, including major damage to the organization's TB care centre and laboratory.

Tent city

After the earthquake, thousands of injured people sought refuge at GHESKIO's main site, which became a temporary field hospital and virtual "tent city".

"I saw some of the worst cases of broken bones and lesions I have ever seen in my career," Pape said. "We immediately started providing water, food, vaccination and sanitation services."

More than 7,000 people were later moved to a new site on higher ground with the support of the Haitian and US governments, UN and NGOs, but there are fears that as the rainy season continues and hurricane season approaches, more permanent accommodation requirements are becoming more urgent.

"The Haitian government urgently needs more help to relocate people and rebuild infrastructure, schools and so on... the need is tremendous," he added.

“So much to do”

"Donors are becoming less generous in light of the economic crisis and the fact that there seems to be some waste in HIV spending - for instance, we know that there are two new infections for every person put on treatment... you can see how donors can get discouraged," Pape noted.

"Our goal will be to find ways to become more efficient in HIV prevention, to do more work in diseases related to HIV, such as HPV [human papillomavirus], which is very common in Haiti, and to become more focused on TB - diagnosis is still poor and treatment is still very toxic and expensive," he added. "There is still so much to do."


Theme(s): (PLUSNEWS) Aid Policy, (PLUSNEWS) Care/Treatment - PlusNews, (PLUSNEWS) Early Warning, (PLUSNEWS) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), (PLUSNEWS) PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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