Haitians May Sue Over HIV Research Claim 9 November 2007
Recommended HLLN Link:
“…In the sixteenth century, Europeans insisted that syphilis originated in
Haiti, and was brought back by Columbus’ sailors. (the converse now appears to
have been the case.)”Excerpted from: The Uses of Haiti (1994, updated 2005)
—by Paul Farmer
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– Haitians May Sue Over HIV Research Claim – A HBN First
Haitians May Sue Over HIV Research Claim – A HBN First
(PHOTO) Haitian doctors
Hardbeatnews, BROOKLYN, NY, Fri. Nov. 9, 2007: Haitian Americans, outraged by recent research claiming that Haitians were responsible for the transfer of HIV from Africa to the Caribbean and the US, are looking into the possibility of legal action, HBN has learnt.
Head of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network, Marguerite Laurent, told HBN Thursday that the organization is “examining all our options and studying what the doctors have reported to determine whether there is legal basis for asking for retraction or damages.”
The research, conducted largely by Professor Michael Worobey of the University of Arizona, claims that HIV was brought from Africa to Haiti and then to the United States by Haitians. The AIDS virus entered the United States via Haiti in about 1969, the research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, claims.
Worobey’s team says they performed a genetic analysis of stored blood samples from the earliest AIDS patients, all of whom were recent immigrants from Haiti. The researchers also looked at genetic data from 117 more early AIDS patients from around the world.
Once all the genetic data was assembled, the researchers loaded it into a computer and used Bayesian statistics to analyze it. For the hypothesis that HIV went from Africa to the U.S. first, the probability turned out to be 0.003 per cent – virtually nil, they claimed. For the hypothesis that HIV went from Africa first to Haiti and then on to the U.S., the probability is 99.8 per cent, researchers stated.
The Worobey team also believes that HIV was brought to Haiti by an infected person from central Africa in about 1966, which matches earlier estimates. That unknown single infected Haitian immigrant then likely arrived in a large U.S. city like Miami or New York in 1969.
It is this fact that has truly incensed the HLLN and Laurent chides the media for being biased in its coverage. “It was reported in the mainstream media as if it were gospel,” Laurent said “There was no indication that it was the opinion of one scientist.”
The HLLN leader questions why the media did not acknowledge the challenges to this particular theory that were on record even before the Worobey research was made public.
Agonizing over the potential impact of the situation on an already “fragile population” Laurent said it is “just criminal” how the research, which she claims is not based on facts, could destroy the image of Haitians and increase the likelihood of discrimination.
For her, it brings back memories of the 1980’s and 1990’s when the Haitian community faced heightened discrimination and were deemed an at risk group and barred from donating blood.
The unpleasant memories are shared by Chairman of the Consortium for Haitian Empowerment, Harry Fouche, who says his initial reaction to the research was “here we go again.”
Fouche says although he’s an economist and not a physician, he does know “something about methodology of research and I set it aside as being a very poor piece of work.”
Dismissing the claim of one Haitian being responsible for carrying the disease from Africa to Haiti, Fouche said it’s another in the series of attacks leveled against the Haitian community. However, the former Haitian Consul General in New York was quick to asset that Haitian Americans “will vigorously defend ourselves and denounce this latest campaign.”
Fouche also questions the relevance of the research at a time when the disease is so widespread and all the focus should be on finding a cure. Haiti’s Ambassador to the United States, Raymond Joseph is also incensed by the whole situation. Speaking to HBN Thursday, Ambassador Joseph said for a study that boats almost 100 percent accuracy, “There are too many conditional caveats and too many probabilities.”
Joseph is challenging the author of the study to produce more details on that single Haitian who purportedly brought HIV from Africa to Haiti. He says until the author can come up with these specifics, “He should retract whatever he has said.”
According to the ambassador, there are several ways to discredit the research but one surefire way is to refute the claim that Haitians who managed to leave Haiti were actually traveling back to the country during the period of Duvalierism.
The question of relevance is also being raised by the President of the JMC Strategies LLC, an organization that prides itself on creating strategies for a developing world. Jocelyn McCalla who champions “social change, human and civil rights” for Haitians, insists that “whether the HIV virus made a pit stop in Haiti is really socially irrelevant at this stage of the game.”
This latest research also stirs up memories of earlier claims regarding Haitians and the spread of AIDS but McCalla says he does not believe these “findings will carry the same weight as they did more than 25 years ago.”
“Much has been learned about HIV, how it is communicated and how it spreads, no one scientist holds the belief that a particular ethnic group has genetically tainted blood,” added the activist.
Worobey’s research has not only drawn reactions from social advocacy groups, medical practitioners have also added their voice to the issue.
In a statement, the Association of Haitian Physicians Abroad said the study shows clear bias and is seriously flawed. Although a more detailed critique of the Worobey study is to be conducted, the AHME noted that some aspects of the methodology is shrouded in secrecy and the findings “lack scientific validation.”
Questioning the motive of the study, the AHME concludes that the study does “not advance our knowledge of the HIV epidemic but it continues with a dangerous precedent of victimizing an ethnic group with flimsy data.”
This notion is shared by Coordinator for the Consortium for Haitian Empowerment, Gina Cheron, who insists, “We have to react against it and make it known that the study is not reliable and not valid and the scientific approach was not well formulated.”
Cheron is concerned that the latest uproar could “exacerbate any stigma that already exists against Haitians.” She appeals for public support for whatever initiatives are deemed necessary to counter the potential ill effects of the research and its coverage in the main stream media.
And as deliberations continue as to how best to proceed, Haitian Americans are being encouraged to stand in solidarity with each other. Executive Director of the Bedford Haitian Community Center, Joseph Dormeus said the research represents an “attack on all Haitians” and as such he’s challenging his fellow nationals to stand up and fight the same way they did before.
The outrage is also shared by many in the black community who see it largely as racism and not research. Worobey for his part has insisted that learning more about the genetic make-up of the various strains of HIV could only help vaccine development. But he added, “The main challenge of developing a vaccine against HIV is its tremendous genetic diversity.” – Hardbeatnews.com
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