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Haitians Dispel AIDS Myth With Harvard Researcher

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On December 1st 2012, we commemorated World AIDS Day. Sadly, Haitians continue to be unfairly implicated in the origin of the virus 30 years later.
In the early1980s there was a new cluster of ailments sometimes referred to as “the 4H disease” a syndrome named for four groups thought to be at high risk of developing the strange illness- homosexuals, hemophiliacs, heroin users, and Haitians. However, even after the disease was named Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), persons of Haitian descent remained stigmatized, marginalized and even blamed for bringing the virus to North America. As a result unjust public health policies were enforced prohibiting Haitians from donating blood in the USA due to their national origin, a supposed risk factor for AIDS.
This historical event underlines the racial stereotypes and cultural ignorance at play in risk assignment-which simultaneously marked Haitians as risky ‘others’. However, a recent study conceptualized by the National Haitian-American Health Alliance dispels the myth that Haitians have a higher AIDS rate than other groups.
In 2007 the origins of HIV were linked to Haiti by scientists stating that the HIV-1 Subtype B virus likely moved from Africa to Haiti in or around 1966, and then on to the United States (Authors: M. Thomas Gilbert and colleagues, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 2007, 104, 18566-18570).
More recently a New York Times book review of “The Origins of AIDS” published by Cambridge University Press (2011) describes that:
‘…a virus, against all odds, appears to have made it from one ape in the central African jungle to one Haitian bureaucrat leaving Zaire for home and then to a few dozen men in California gay bars before it was even noticed…’
However, other scientific evidence suggests that HIV-1 Subtype B is not known to exist in Zaire. So why after 30 years are Haitians inexplicably still being linked to the origins of the AIDS epidemic, asks Yanick Sanon Eveillard, the Co-Chair of the National Haitian American Health-Alliance (NHAHA)?
To help shed light on this question NHAHA contacted Dr. Max Essex, Chairman of the Harvard AIDS Initiative at the Harvard School of Public Health. Essex is one of the first scientists to link animal and human retroviruses to immunosuppressive disease, to suspect that a retrovirus was the cause of AIDS. He is also a pioneer who helped to determine that HIV could be transmitted through blood and blood products to hemophiliacs and recipients of blood transfusions; and with others he provided the first evidence that HIV could be transmitted by heterosexual intercourse.

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Written by jamarch