Haiti has made tremendous progress in recent years in its efforts against HIV and AIDS, reducing new infections, lowering AIDS-related deaths and increasing access to treatment. Yet, the small island nation still has a long way to go to be HIV free. Fifty-five percent of all HIV positive people in the Caribbean live in Haiti. As in many places, women and girls are disproportionately affected due to stigma and cultural practices. Young women in Haiti are three times more likely to be HIV-positive than young men. One of the champions leading the charge for an AIDS free generation in Haiti is Dr. Jenny Edouard and her dedicated team at St. Damien’s Pediatric Hospital.
Dr. Jenny Edouard has been fighting for an HIV free Haiti since she graduated from medical school in Port-au-Prince in 2006. She now coordinates a public health and HIV program at the St. Damien’s, a 224-bed pediatric hospital that provides over 80,000 medical services annually to children and their families. Dr. Edouard supervises a community health and HIV program that provides care to over 4,000 children annually with a particular focus on the elimination of mother to child transmission (EMTCT) of HIV.
“We’ve made huge strides towards eliminating mother to child transmission of HIV. Our EMTCT programs have been impactful, practical and effective in reducing HIV transmission in Haiti. Infant mortality has decreased and when mothers take part in the program, their children are given the chance to live HIV free. Soon we hope we’ll see a new, HIV free generation here,” says Dr. Edouard.
Dr. Edouard shares that “EMTCT is a challenge in Haiti. We see women delaying early prenatal care, we have trouble following up with our patients in rural areas, low hospital delivery rates, and most significantly, a stigma around HIV that leaves women afraid their partners may abandon them or resort to violence if they take part in the program. These are the things we are fighting against.”
“The EMTCT program saves lives – it’s that simple. The overall mortality rate of children born to HIV-positive mothers has significantly decreased as a result of this program. Women also find support in a new community free of fear of being stigmatized. They can talk with each other about their fears and concerns openly. Many become friends and educate other HIV positive pregnant women about the risk their infants face and how the EMTCT program can help,” Dr. Edouard recounts.
Since the beginning of St. Damien’s EMTCT program in 2011, Dr. Edouard and her team have worked with over 400 HIV positive pregnant women. The program’s current cohort includes 79 soon-to-be mothers. Dr. Edouard attributes part of the program’s success to its comprehensive approach which integrates HIV testing and counseling, nutrition services, and support for women affected by domestic violence.
“EMTCT services open the door for HIV care and treatment services not only for women, but also their partners and families. We believe that more investment in the EMTCT program could have a significant impact on maternal and child survival in Haiti among HIV positive patients. Despite the many challenges we face each day we are incredibly proud to do what we do and to take care of our patients,” says Dr. Edouard.
“Our HIV program with integrated EMTCT services is working incredibly well. Nearly all of the children of the HIV-positive pregnant women supported by our facility are HIV free. We’ve experienced several unfortunate budget cuts over the previous few years that have led us to lose staff. For this reason, we’re more grateful than ever for partners who are standing by these important programs.”
Photo Credit: Angela Altus