Imperialists stand by as AIDS crisis grows

Published Dec 23, 2006 12:24 AM

In the year to come, thousands of Caribbean people will die of AIDS and thousands more will become infected with the HIV virus. In just the past two decades, over 6,000 AIDS deaths were reported in the Caribbean, but the actual number is admittedly higher due to underreporting or misdiagnosis.

All the while, as people die and infection increases, imperialist governments in the United States and Europe reveal their racism as they economically strangle Caribbean countries such as Haiti and the Dominican Republic. They offer no reparations for the centuries of damage and exploitation done to these nations and peoples. Capitalist drug companies are even reluctant to provide the desperately needed antiretroviral drugs that can improve the quality of life and life expectancy for those living with HIV/AIDS.

In Haiti, the Bahamas, Barbados, the Dominican Republic and Guyana, the AIDS epidemic has spread beyond those called “high risk” to the general population. This occurs once the infection rate in the general population reaches approximately 5 percent. At such a rate the HIV virus spreads even more rapidly.

AIDS is most devastating to Haiti, where 12 percent of the urban and 5 percent of the rural population are estimated to be infected with the terrible disease.

By the end of 1999, 83,000 children under the age of 14 had been orphaned by AIDS in the Caribbean.

Furthermore, the AIDS epidemic is placing tremendous burdens on health care systems and on the labor force. As of 2006, 83 percent of AIDS cases in the Caribbean were found in the age group 15 to 54 years old, considered the prime age span of the work force. This epidemic not only affects personal lives and relationships but has the potential to negatively impact various key sectors, from agriculture, tourism and

mining to trade, as well as national budgets.

In the Caribbean, AIDS is a “hurricane” disaster, said Dominica’s Minister of Planning Artherton Martin in his closing statement at a recent HIV/AIDS conference: “We must deploy against HIV/AIDS as we would any other disasters. In fact, it is worse than hurricanes because it destroys people, our most important resource.”

Haitians in Dominican Republic

Amelia Cayo, 53, who is part Haitian and a Creole speaker, is one of 43 AIDS patients receiving free antiretroviral therapy from a clinic in the Dominican Republic sponsored by Bateye Relief Alliance Dominicana, a nongovernmental organization. She is one of many people who will be destroyed by AIDS if left untreated. Like many victims to the virus, she is on a time-consuming regimen of antiretroviral treatments, taking as many as four to seven different pills three times a day.

Cayo comments, “I feel better since I started the pills, and you can be sure I will keep taking them.” She and other descendants of Haitian sugarcane workers are part of an estimated 200,000 residents of bateyes, migrant worker communities adjacent to the mostly now-fallow sugarcane fields. Before the opening of the center, the estimated 3,000 bateye residents in the area received no medical care whatsoever.

There are currently only 3,500 people taking drugs, and they receive little or no medical attention. Among the country’s bateye inhabitants, roughly 5 to 12 percent are HIV-positive. Alliance Executive Director María Virtudes Berroa says sugarcane workers have been systematically excluded from the public health system because of racial, economic and social discrimination.

The Bateye health group has already lost funding in education and prevention programs for 30 bateye communities and at this point is reaching only a tiny portion of the people with AIDS in the bateyes. Wendy Valdez, a physician in the Cinco Casas bateye, said, “It would be disastrous if we had to stop.”

It has been suggested that an individual could receive antiretroviral therapy for less than $1 a day—which of course would exclude profits for the drug companies. However, under common political and funding trends, including all the programs underway and all the funds donated towards the Global AIDS effort, these medicines reached fewer than 1 million people by the end of 2005.

Worldwide, including the Caribbean, 5 to 6 million people urgently need antiretroviral treatment (ART), due to the severity of their illness, but only 300,000 people in developing countries receive these medicines. Many grassroots efforts have shown that ART can be delivered in poorer countries as effectively as developed countries. The World Health Organization says that increasing the availability of antiretroviral therapy makes it more likely that people will come forward for HIV testing, learn their status, receive counseling and care and become knowledgeable about preventing the spread of the virus.

Nevertheless, by the year 2015 the Caribbean region stands to have nearly 3.5 million people living with the virus, according to UNAIDS.

Yet there is a small beacon of light in the Caribbean, 90 miles from U.S. shores on the island of Cuba. The Cuban government has sent at least 4,000 doctors and health personnel to the poorest countries in the Caribbean, those most hard hit by AIDS, with the idea of creating an infrastructure able to provide the population with medications and the necessary follow-up. (www.cubaweb.com)

The immediate ongoing need is for the international community to come forward with the raw materials for further products and services. Yet, with the ongoing war on people of color and the poor, what can Caribbean countries and individuals like Amelia Cayo hope for from greedy capitalist nations?

Melissa Kleinman is a FIST member and a Denver public health care HIV/AIDS worker.

Articles (c) copyright 1995-2007 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.


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