|Published on Friday, November 23, 2007|
By Jean H Charles
Some twenty years ago, the US Food and Drug Administration Service, as well as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), listed the Haitian people as suis generis carriers of the AIDS virus. This ill-conceived classification angered the Haitian Community in the United States to the bone. I was at that time, Assistant Dean of Students at the City College of the City University of New York. I called in a group of Haitian student leaders, they included Gilbert Hyppolite, Mario Jean, and Mildred Trouillot “Aristide”.
We planned together a strategy to organize a march to demonstrate against that ruling. The movement was taken over by the larger community. The rest was history.
The CDC retreated from that classification the same evening, advising the world that some Americans, like some Haitians or Jamaicans or Trinidadians might be the victims of a virus that can be contacted when sexual relations occurred with a person who was already an AIDS carrier.
Some twenty years later, Dr Michael Worobey of Arizona State University and Dr Arthur Pichenik came with a new twist to the old story. Patient zero, the first AIDS carrier might have been a Haitian resident, who had acquired the virus in the Congo, Africa.
This so called scientific finding appears on its face without foundation.
These empirical and anecdotal observations will illuminate the readers.
During the 1960s, the United Nations contracted a legion of Haitian professionals including doctors, teachers and lawyers to contribute to the nation building process in Congo after its independence from Belgium. When the United Nations contract expired some few years later, those Haitian professionals went to the province of Quebec in Canada to repeat the pioneering engagement of education and development.
In a recent book ”Those Quebecois who came from Haiti,“ edited by Samuel Pierre (International Press Polytechnique, 2007), the story, the life and the contribution of those heroes are narrated in a collection of tributes “for those who are an inspiration for the citizens of the world who believe in the future possibility of a happy society for all”. This quotation by Jean Charest, the Prime Minister of Quebec, sets apart the men and women that Quebec cannot forget neither in name, nor in heart, not in actions. Who they are, what they did is an eloquent example of engagement and determination!
Now at the age of retreat, those pioneers, healthy and wealthy are enjoying a well deserved retirement in Boca Raton Florida or in Port au Prince Haiti with a fat retiree check emanated from two continents. Yet the good American professors Worobey and Pichenik have chosen, to use the term of Dr Paul Farmer of Harvard University to malign and slender on a base of a grand claim those missionaries of civilization. Quoting Luc Montaigne, the Thomas Edison of AIDS research, this finding is without foundation. The Haitians who came to Quebec from Africa had no signs of the AIDS virus.
I will add that the Haitian ethos patterned after the French culture is inhospitable to any group of people who are disease carriers. The grapevine and the rumor would have done its best to contribute to the shunning of those individuals. There is no scintilla of evidence that even a minority of those who came back from Congo was dying en masse of the AIDS virus.
On the other side, I know personally of a prominent activist American who died around 1973, with the symptoms that are now attributed to AIDS. He was fond of women, and he traveled often to Africa, the rumor then; there was a strange disease that could be contacted by those who are too prolific with the other sex.
In Haiti, with the help of good doctors and institutions like Dr J.W. Pape of Cornell University, Dr Paul Farmer of Harvard University as well as Doctors without Borders, the country has been cited in international conference on AIDS as a pioneer in the fight and the containment of the disease. From a peak of 6% in 2002, the AIDS population has been reduced to 2% in 2006 in Haiti.
In addition, the New York City Health and Hospital Corporation would have crumbled in a few weeks but the devotion and the professionalism of a hundred Haitian doctors and thousands of Haitian nurses who contribute day in and day out, representing the largest contingent of black professionals in the city hospitals.
We are expecting that Michael Worobey and his colleagues will follow the path of Dr William Darrow who repudiated his own study of the theory of the 4 H (homosexuals, hemophiliacs, heroin addicts, Haitians). In the meantime, the harm has been spread throughout.
Haiti, the pioneer of black emancipation has to endure from time to time, the scourge of those who resent the fact that this black nation has disturbed and dismantled the world order of slavery. This gallant nation shall continue its mission of making this world a better one for all.
Like the Jews, despised by some but respected for the great universities, the zoos, the museums, the philharmonics orchestras and the cultural institutions they have sponsored wherever they have passed through, the Haitian people will have to content themselves with this God principle: To those of you I have trusted the task of illuminating this world, I did not promise an easy life on this earth.