The opening ceremony of the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial was held in Haiti, May 16th, inaugurating over 1,000 Candlelight events in more than 100 countries. The Candlelight Memorial is world's oldest and largest HIV/AIDs grassroots mobilization event.
Haiti was selected as the host country for the opening ceremony in recognition of that nation's efforts to combat the spread and support those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. The event was co-hosted by the Global Health Council and Promoteurs Objectif Zero Sida, a non-government organization that provides prevention and counseling services throughout Haiti.
Haiti's President Rene Garcia Preval and Prime Minister Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis reaffirmed Haiti's commitment to fight the deadly disease with a new 6-month initiative to increase HIV/AIDS testing across the country.
The Abbott Fund, the philanthropic foundation of the Abbott global health care company, donated 500,000 rapid HIV testing kits as part of a collaborative effort by the Government of Haiti, the United States Government, the Abbott Fund and local health implementing organizations.
"We will see the best results for the health of the Haitian people when all partners – government, nongovernmental organizations, faith-based organizations, and corporate organizations – work together to make the best use of resources," Dr. Myrna Eustache, Interim Director of Promoteurs Objectif Zero Sida.
Haiti has shown progress in recent years in bringing down HIV prevalence. Approximately 120,000 Haitians are living with AIDS today and the adult prevalence rate is 2.2 percent according to UNAIDS, compared with an estimated 3.8 percent in 2005.
Since 2004, the United States has provided more than 320 million U.S. dollars to Haiti to prevent AIDS and plans to provide more than 100 million U.S. dollars in 2009 to support HIV prevention, treatment and care programs, working through a network of partner organizations in 10 Haitian departments.
"The focus on HIV/AIDS in Haiti remains extremely important for the United States Government and is a key pillar of President Obama's Global Health Initiative," said U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Janet Sanderson. "As we remember and pray for those we have lost," she said, "let us also celebrate our hard-won victories and our Haitian partners and the hundreds of quiet, unknown heroes who honor the memory of those we have lost to AIDS by fighting HIV/AIDS on the ground here in Haiti every day."