Stigma, Discrimination Toward Haitians Could Increase Following Release of Study That Found HIV Arrived in U.S. From Haiti, Advocates Say
Some Haitian advocates, scientists, lawyers and health workers recently said a study that found a widespread subtype of HIV was spread to the U.S. from Haiti in the 1960s could increase discrimination against Haitians, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports (Morris, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/1).
For the study, which was published Oct. 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, and colleagues analyzed five blood samples collected in 1982 and 1983 from Haitian HIV/AIDS patients in Miami that had been frozen and stored by CDC. In addition, the researches examined genetic data from 117 early HIV/AIDS patients worldwide. The researchers examined two viral genes and compared their sequences with viruses found worldwide, using HIV samples from Central Africa considered to be some of the earliest forms of HIV as a baseline.
The researchers then constructed a timeline of HIV development by measuring how much the genes in recent blood samples differed from early samples. According to the study, samples from Haitians were genetically the most similar to the African virus, indicating the Haitian viruses were among the earliest to branch off. The researchers found a 99.7% certainty that HIV subtype B originated in Haiti, Worobey said.
Worobey concluded that the virus was brought to Haiti by Haitians who traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo after it became independent in 1960. He added that the virus was then carried to the U.S. by Haitian immigrants between 1966 and 1972. The researchers believe an unknown Haitian immigrant likely arrived in a large U.S. city, such as New York or Miami, and the virus circulated in the U.S. population and then to other nations before it was discovered. The mutation timeline of the virus presented in the study places the virus in the U.S. about 12 years before the disease was recognized by scientists in 1981 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/31).
According to AFP/Google.com, Worobey's study angered many Haitian authorities, who said it "could cause prejudice against the Haitian community because of its stigmatizing nature." The Haitian government formed a task force of about 20 medical experts -- most of whom are from the Haitian medical research group GHESKIO, which collaborates with Cornell University -- to "achieve objective and scientific arguments," Haiti's Ministry of Health said. "We are working with foreign specialists to prepare a scientific response to this study," Health Minister Robert Auguste said. Amadou Mbaye, head of UNAIDS in Haiti, said, "There are different theories about HIV/AIDS," adding that Worobey "did not bring any solution with his study" (AFP/Google.com, 11/30). Jeff Cazeau, president of the Haitian Lawyers Association, said that the group is examining CDC records to determine whether Worobey and his colleagues were authorized to use the blood samples.
Marleine Bastien, a Haitian advocate who cared for Haitian immigrants in the late 1980s as a social worker, said the response to the study from the community comes from the way Haitians were treated in the 1980s. Ancy Louis, a Creole radio host, said he does not think the study will increase stigma against Haitians because people are better educated about HIV/AIDS today (South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/1).