Partners in Health – Caring for AIDS Patients in the Dominican Republic
While Partners in Health (PIH) has expanded its mission to bring medical assistance to vulnerable populations around the world since its inception in 1987, it remains dedicated to the people it first began assisting: the underserved migrant communities of Haiti. One of its current programs is a public health initiative in the Dominican Republic province of Elias Piña, which borders Haiti and is home to numerous migrant workers, 45 percent of whom are from Haiti. Through PIH’s Dominican partner, Socios En Salud (SES), and aid from the U.S. Agency for International Development, PIH works to improve HIV care in these communities, where the disease is still prevalent.
The people served by SES, which is directed by Dr. Alexandre Widner, face numerous challenges in obtaining health care. Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic are largely undocumented and unable to overcome language barriers and discrimination, a combination of factors that lead many into sex work, which in turn leaves them vulnerable to contracting HIV. Since 2009, Dr. Widner and his colleagues have sought to work with the Dominican Ministry of Health in order to stem the tide of HIV infection by providing testing, medical care, and training for health care workers.
Those suffering from HIV or tuberculosis can obtain food through SES, and support from community health care workers known as “acompañantes,” who have been trained to offer psychological help, assist them in seeking aid from support organizations, and help them overcome the discrimination and stigma they face because of their marginalized status. Meanwhile, SES has also launched programs to train hospital staff in preventing the spread of HIV between mother and child, and has obtained a mobile testing unit that measures immune system functioning in those with HIV, which allows health care workers to identify patients who should begin antiretroviral drug treatment.
In addition to its work in the Dominican Republic, PIH operates 12 clinics and hospitals throughout Haiti through its sister organization, Zanmi Lasante, and is also active in Mexico, Russia, Rwanda, Lesotho, and other countries.