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Joint Chiefs Chair Visits Haiti To Examine Aid Response

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Mike Mullen, who is President Barack Obama’s top military adviser, visited Haiti over the weekend to examine relief and rebuilding efforts and meet with local leaders, Agence France-Presse reports. It was his first visit to the country after the earthquake, according to AFP.  

Mullen “met President Rene Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, as well as visited U.S. troops stationed here,” according to the news service. David Johnson, a U.S. defense spokesperson in Haiti, said of Mullen’s trip, “It’s a chance for him to come out and get his boots on the ground and visit with his troops.”

“The chairman reiterated President Obama’s pledge to remain committed to the mission here and to helping the Haitian people in this time of need,” said U.S. Army Colonel Bill Buckner of the military Joint Task Force in Haiti (2/27).

Six U.S. soldiers involved in the aid response in Haiti have been diagnosed with malaria, Buckner said, the Associated Press reports (2/27). One of the soldiers almost “died of malaria … before being taken to a Fort Bragg, N.C., hospital, according to an Army doctor who recently spent two weeks in Haiti,” Stars and Stripes writes (Montgomery, 2/27).

Meanwhile, the AP examines how the earthquake has affected Haiti’s local agriculture sector with a focus on rice farming. “Last month’s catastrophic earthquake that … spurred emergency food needs for more than 4 million has raised a familiar predicament for aid organizations – how to help without undermining Haiti’s fragile economy. … Since the quake, aid groups have spearheaded cash-for-work programs, some of which intend to help struggling farmers pay for seed. They’re also helping with irrigation and crop diversification projects and working with Haiti’s government to analyze soil.”

The article looks at the challenges Haiti faces to produce enough food for its population and includes quotes from agronomist and a USAID official (Dodds, 2/27).

UNAIDS Report Highlights Increased Risk Of HIV/AIDS Transmission In Haiti

UNAIDS “is calling for action to prevent the spread of the AIDS virus in earthquake-stricken Haiti.  A study [.pdf] by UNAIDS warns of a substantial risk of the spread of the deadly virus in overcrowded camps for Haitian survivors of the disaster,” VOA News reports (Schlein, 2/27). “The report explains the current situation in Haiti and what may be required to meet the immediate and intermediate [HIV/]AIDS response needs. UNAIDS will continue to revise and update this assessment as new information becomes available,” according to a UNAIDS press release (2/26).

It identifies “seven priority areas, including rebuilding health systems, protecting the displaced from HIV and revitalizing HIV prevention programmes,” according to the U.N. News Centre. The report says that the country will need an extra $70 million to respond to deal with HIV/AIDS over the next six months. Before the earthquake, Haiti’s HIV/AIDS budget was $132 million and about 120,000 people were living with HIV/AIDS there.

Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, said the large number of people in temporary shelters exacerbates the risk for violence, including gender-based and sexual violence. “Programmes are urgently needed to reduce vulnerabilities to HIV and ensure protection,” he said. “The country’s epidemic is driven largely by heterosexual sex and more than half of those living with HIV are women,” the U.N. News Centre writes.

“Makeshift treatment clinics under tents have popped up to increase access to treatment, but the Ministry of Health estimates that less than 40 percent of the 24,000 people living with HIV who were on treatment before the disaster have access them,” according to the news service (2/26).

In related news, the AP looks at the lessons that are being learned from the response to the earthquake in Haiti (Hanley, 3/1).

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