Clinic seeks to improve care of HIV-positive children and young adults in Haiti
UNICEF correspondent Thomas Nybo reports on how head of an adolescent clinic in Port-au-Prince Dr. Rachel Bertrand is on a mission to improve the care of HIV-positive children and young adults in Haiti.
By Thomas Nybo
An adolescent clinic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, provides care, support and education for youth who are HIV-positive, among other services.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 12 June 2013 – Dr. Rachel Bertrand is on a mission to improve the care of HIV-positive children and young adults in Haiti. She’s the head of an adolescent clinic in Port-au-Prince, run by GHESKIO and supported by UNICEF, that treats young patients between the ages of 10 and 24.
A population with particular needs
“This population has special needs,” says Dr. Bertrand. “They need a place where they feel at home, where they can be taken care of, where they can feel at ease to express themselves to say what they feel and where they can come play and everything and find health services.”
On this day, like many days, she gathers a small group of the patients, and they sit on the grass outside the clinic and discuss their lives. Are they all taking their medication? Any new challenges in their lives since the last time they talked?
“Young adults and adolescents, especially – it’s an age where they experience things,” she says. “So, they have sexual relations with no protection and they become HIV-positive – and it’s very difficult to explain to someone that he was healthy and everything, that he has a disease and he has to take pills for all his life until he dies. So, we kind of accompany them, we encourage them to take their pills and to stay in care.”
Education and other support
Not all of the patients are HIV-positive. Some have tuberculosis, and others have tested negative for HIV, but, because they might be in a high-risk group, they’re being educated about how best to protect themselves.
Like all of GHESKIO’s care, there is no charge for their services. The clinic offers testing, counseling, general health check-ups, antiretroviral medication, screening for sexually transmitted diseases. There’s also a tuberculosis unit, and a separate health clinic for adults.
One of Dr. Bertrand’s patients is 17-year-old Marcus*.
“When I was 12, and I was told that I’m HIV-positive, I was very hurt,” he says. “I thought I was going to die. I thought I would never see my friends again, I would never get to play with them again. But afterward, I learned that if you believe in God and medication, you can lead a good life, you can live the normal amount of time that people have to live.”
Marcus says his fellow patients at the clinic are like brothers and sisters. But, it’s the life-saving medication that he’s been taking for five years that Marcus says he appreciates most.
Marcus says he’s worried people will find out he’s HIV-positive and treat him badly.
“Only my family knows I’m HIV-positive,” he says. “I will not disclose my status. It is a secret between me, my family and God.”
He was born with the virus, which was passed to him from his mother. His father is also positive, as is his sister.
“Always there for them”
The clinic here sees about 50 patients per day, and has about 770 HIV-positive patients who are taking antiretroviral medication, days Dr. Bertrand.
“We’re always there for them,” she says. “They have my number, they call me at night, or whatever the moment.”
“I’m not here as a doctor,” she adds. “I’m here as a friend.”
*Name has been changed.