Haitian government honors Norwich nonprofit for work to fight HIV

Norwich — The Haitian government recognized a Norwich-based nonprofit this month for substantially impacting the HIV crisis in Haiti.

Haitian Health Foundation, one of just three organizations recognized, has brought health care, education and sustainable development to the people of Haiti since 1985.

Marilyn Lowney, its executive director, said she and her colleagues are especially proud of this award because “hundreds, if not thousands” of charities and organizations operate in Haiti.

“To have this fairly small nonprofit receive this award is pretty thrilling,” she said.

The foundation’s main clinic is in the city of Jérémie, about 180 miles from capital city Port-au-Prince, but it recently opened a second clinic in Dayere, 14 miles south of Jérémie.

The nonprofit employs about 200 people, many of whom are Haitian, and serves about 225,000 people in more than 100 rural mountain communities, Lowney said.

Its HIV work focuses on women and children, she said, because “maternal and child health is the most vulnerable in any developing country."

Staffers test pregnant women and monitor those who test positive for HIV, using medication to prevent mother-to-child transmission whenever possible. They also educate the women’s partners on safe practices and the use of condoms, Lowney said.

Last year, Haitian Health Care tested more than 2,000 pregnant women.

“It’s a tough disease to work with because it brings down your immunity, and then you’re more susceptible to other diseases,” Lowney said. “But we’ve had more and more success with people living longer and fulfilling lives.”

UNAIDS reports Haiti has an HIV prevalence rate of 1.9 percent among adults aged 15 to 49. About 150,000 adults and children were living with the virus in 2017.

New HIV infections have decreased by 25 percent and AIDS-related deaths have decreased by 24 percent in Haiti since 2010, UNAIDS said.

In a newsletter, the Haitian Ministry of Health said it chose to honor Haitian Health Foundation because of its promptness, data collection and ability to keep up with changing protocol.

Lowney gave kudos to Dr. Adlerson César, who oversees the clinic operation; Marie Ninoche Emile, a nun who does pre- and postnatal counseling, and Rosmanel Roumer, who keeps sophisticated statistics that are shared with the Haitian government.

“All of our staff are great,” said Lowney, who said she happily would receive care at the Haiti clinics. “We have staff who have been there from day one."

Lowney said working in Haiti hasn’t been easy. A spring 2016 strike in public hospitals left Haitian Health Foundation the primary health care provider for the hundreds of thousands of people it serves. Hurricane Matthew, which hit in October 2016, wiped out livestock and damaged most buildings in Jérémie, though the foundation's facilities were OK.

More recently, political corruption, increasing fuel prices, a devaluing currency and resulting protests have made travel even more difficult, Lowney said.

“We continue to work under difficult circumstances,” she said. “We’re not going to let anything discourage us.”



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