Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Sison on World AIDS Day

Great Seal of the United States

Good morning

Your Excellence, Dr. Marie Greta Clement Roy, Minister of Public Health and Population;
Your Excellence, Minister of Youth and Sports;
Your Excellence, Minister of Social Affairs;
Your Excellence, Minister Delegate for Human Rights;
Mister Director General of MSPP;
Ms. Malia Jean, Mr. Sorel Bonjour, and Mr. Emmanuel Merilien: you said the truth today, with a lot of passion. We, from the international community, heard your voice. We heard your voice and took note of your request.

Dear young members of FOSREF Club;
Mister Representative of the Global Fund;
Madam Director of UNAIDS;
Ms. Mama Aya Faye;
and Dear Friends,

I am delighted to join you at this meeting, together with Mr. Gary Juste, Director of USAID and Dr. Mireille Kalou, Representative of CDC, to commemorate the 31st World AIDS Day. We take this opportunity to present of condolences to the family of Mr. Charlot Jeudy, founder and leader of KOURAJ, an organization advocating for the rights of LGBTI. Please accept our sincerest sympathies and support.

This year’s theme is “Communities make the difference”, a theme that is of particular interest to our worldwide PEPFAR program and to the PEPFAR program in Haiti.

We were grateful to have the United States Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx visit us here in Haiti this past June to launch the first Population Based HIV Impact Assessment (HAPHIA).  Dr. Birx also helped us strategize on how to improve HIV patients adherence to anti-retroviral treatment as well as HIV testing among populations at risk and minority groups in order to attain the ultimate goal of zero HIV growth in Haiti by the year 2030.

In our minds, this has everything to do with building supportive community. We already work closely with community organizations to support activities that benefit the whole population.  Our program is based on the need to reach men, women and children in Haiti who are living with HIV, to offer them lifelong treatment and to support them in maintaining their health, and to offer preventive services to those who are more at risk of contracting HIV infections. Our programs work with hospitals, health centers, but also support community outreach to better serve People Living with HIV/AIDS, key populations, babies born from HIV positive mothers, and women and men at risk of infection by the HIV/AIDS virus.  These programs provide outreach to the community, either directly or through specially appointed agents, who interact with community members through telephone contact, home visits, and through clubs such as youth clubs and mothers’ clubs.  Reaching these populations is important in order to provide positive care to PLHIVs, to ensure that they have their needed medications, and to control the HIV epidemic.

By the end of September 2019, 107,190 PLHIV were on antiretroviral therapy (ART) through PEPFAR support throughout the 10 administrative departments of Haiti representing more than 98% of all PLHIV on ART in the country. Among them, 79% of them have their viral load suppressed.

Starting this year, and going in the next two years, we will strengthen this community focus by increasing the number of Haitian organizations that are directly funded by the US government.  We will also focus on addressing the stigma of being HIV-positive, by providing more training to hospital staff, community health workers on best practices to avoid stigma, and to strengthen their understanding of the need to provide care to all persons without judgement. Also, PEPFAR Haiti through selected partners will expand its interventions against stigma in discrimination towards people living with HIV and Key populations by actively involving community leaders and local organizations in the fight. Partnership with community-based organizations including faith-based organizations is essential for the local AIDS response.

As we have done regularly for the past four years, we will also continue to work with civil society organizations, including both secular and religious organizations, to discuss how we can reach out to their communities and ensure they are aware of the PEPFAR orientations and progress in Haiti, and give their feedback and inputs.  Issues raised at these meetings have already been included in the PEPFAR operational plan for this fiscal year.  In the future, we also plan to reach out to community organizations through participation in our new PEPFAR Small Grants Program.

We are proud that Haiti is one of the 13 countries that were identified by PEPFAR headquarters in Washington as a country that could achieve epidemic control in 2020.  Our goal is to end the spread of HIV/AIDS in Haiti so that, , 95% of those who are HIV-positive know their status, 95% of that group are being treated for the HIV, and 95% of those treated are virally suppressed.  Achieving these goals is a serious challenge, particularly at times when transport, safety, and communication with our programs are threatened.

We recognize the Haitian people are suffering and we deplore the current gridlock here.  “Pays lock” continues to interfere with the ability of Haitians to access health care and vital treatment, including those provided through the PEPFAR program. “Pays lock” directly contributes to violence, a spike in humanitarian needs, and an interruption of daily life for the Haitian families. For these reasons, we continue to urge all stakeholders – political, economic and civil society leaders to work toward an inclusive dialogue without pre-conditions toward a Haitian-led, nonviolent, and democratic solution in the days ahead.

We are, however, fortunate to be able to interact with the Ministry of Health, the National AIDS Control Program, and our implementing partners in delivering services and supporting training.  The Ministry guidelines have set hospital and community standards for the switch to dispensing the more potent TLD drugs and for multi-month dispensing to stable patients – both integral features of our HIV/AIDS program here in Haiti.

Your leadership and interest in participating in new methodologies is an important part of our joint success.  We look forward to a future when the Government of Haiti can take on more financial and programmatic leadership of HIV/AIDS initiatives, which will increasingly focus on the prevention of future cases as well as on ensuring that those infected remain virally suppressed. Of course, all this depends on a strong budget for MSPP. We encourage the Ministry of Health to support education about health so that all can better understand HIV in order to reduce risk of infections, reduce stigma, and to all members of these communities who are HIV positive to better take care of themselves and stay on treatment. We look forward to continuing to work with you in addressing our remaining challenges: how to minimize the number of persons who are lost to follow up, who drop out of our records and how to reach out more effectively to men.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the Ministry of Health for their ongoing commitment to the HIV/AIDS program. My thanks go also to our colleagues here today, to our partners, to the medical profession, to community leaders, to civil society and to PLHIV for their continued commitment to eradicating the spread of HIV/AIDS in Haiti.  We join all those here on World AIDS Day in recognizing the urgent need to involve communities closely in our response to HIV/AIDS, in order to achieve lasting epidemic control.

Communities make the difference!

Thank you.