AIDS Epidemic Knows No Borders, Sun-Sentinel Editorial
Editorial, June 10, 2001
South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial
June 10, 2001
Many view the Caribbean as a third U.S.
border. Every year, millions of people travel between the United States and the
Caribbean islands. The region also sends immigrants and refugees to U.S. shores.
Goods and services move along with people. In fact, South Florida's largest
trading partners are in the Caribbean.
Tragically, so is a growing AIDS
The Caribbean now has the world's highest rate of HIV infection
outside sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 2 percent of the region's population is
infected with the AIDS virus -- around half a million people. One-third of the
victims are women. A growing number are children.
has devoted a special section today to this health crisis close to home.
Reporters Tim Collie, Michele Salcedo and Vanessa Bauzß chronicle AIDS' advance
through beachside resorts and tropical shantytowns. Photographers Mike Stocker,
Hilda P´rez and Angel ValentĀn capture the epidemic's haunting images. Some are
of children so emaciated by the disease that they resemble Nazi concentration
The stories and photos may frighten or move readers to
tears. Above all, they should make everyone think about the disastrous potential
of the Caribbean's AIDS crisis, and what can be done to curb it.
and common sense are reasons to care about a growing epidemic on the United
States' third border. AIDS, which also is increasing among some segments of the
U.S. population, has become the leading cause of death for young men and women
in the Caribbean. An estimated 85,000 children have been orphaned by the
disease. AIDS strains island economies and threatens to reduce life expectancy
in the region.
This epidemic has consequences for South Florida as well.
All new immigrants are required to be tested for HIV, the virus that causes
AIDS. Most of those who have it are not allowed to enter the United States. But
illegal immigrants don't get tested. As the Caribbean's AIDS crisis gets worse,
illegal immigration will become an even greater problem.
mean that AIDS is a Caribbean disease. Health experts believe that HIV was first
introduced to the region decades ago by a tourist who could have come from New
York or London. The AIDS virus can travel in either direction between the United
States and nearby island-nations.
The potential impact on trade and
foreign investment is also a major concern. As more Caribbean workers get sick
or die from AIDS, businesses will suffer. Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur
cautions that, "The Caribbean has never lost a generation of its most talented
young people because of war or natural disaster. It is in danger of doing so
because of the pandemic of AIDS."
The pandemic's epicenter is Haiti
where infection rates run as high as 12 percent. Haiti lacks the resources to
treat the sick and prevent the virus from spreading. The Dominican Republic,
which shares the island of Hispaola with Haiti, also has a high number of AIDS
cases, in part because of a growing sex tourism industry in that country.
The disease also is becoming a major problem in Trinidad and Tobago,
Guyana, Jamaica and other places as well. The U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto
Rico, which are part of the United States, have the nation's third- and
fourth-highest AIDS rates, respectively. Throughout the region, the AIDS virus
is spreading among women and children and threatening entire
Cuba is the exception. It has one of the world's lowest HIV
infection rates in a region ravaged by AIDS. Early on, Cuba quarantined
HIV-positive patients and contained the virus' spread. Its methods were
criticized, and today Cuba runs a mostly volunteer AIDS program that offers
patients treatment, housing and a decent diet.
prostitution and sex tourism still pose an AIDS threat for Cuba. This is all the
more reason why Havana and Washington should be cooperating to combat
It will take money to control the epidemic. The region spends only
one-tenth of the estimated $260 million a year needed for AIDS treatment and
prevention. Some help is on the way. The World Bank is offering $100 million in
loans for Caribbean AIDS programs. The United Nations is launching a global AIDS
fund, with assistance from the United States. The fund is intended mostly for
Africa, where the need is the greatest. But it also would provide help for the
Caribbean. Drug companies have begun to reduce the cost of antiretroviral drugs
in poor countries.
All these measures are needed, and more.
prevention is key. Caribbean leaders must deal with the epidemic's roots, which
are ignorance, poverty, promiscuity and cultural and religious taboos. In some
Caribbean countries, and in Puerto Rico, local governments are reluctant to
promote condom use for fear of offending the Catholic Church. If AIDS is to be
beaten, these attitudes must change.
As a neighbor, the United States can
help the Caribbean fight a growing health crisis. This would be in America's
best interest since AIDS knows no borders.
Copyright © 2001, South Florida