The truth about the introduction of AIDS from the U.S. to Haiti

By Dr. Gérard Alphonse Férère, Professor Emeritus, Saint Joseph's University.


As part of his vulgar and spurious statements against Haiti and her citizens, Donald Trump allegedly declared that "all Haitians have AIDS". Such erroneous statement would illustrate the level of his paroxysmal lack of information about that proud and loving people. Hereafter, a clear historical and scientific discussion of what I call "The truth about the introduction of AIDS from the U.S. to Haiti". It was in 1981 that two occurrences of the disease were formally confirmed in the continental United States, but it is believed that these were not necessarily the first. Soon after, in 1982, a most incorrect and unfortunate decision by the American medical authorities was made, when rushing to judgment, they indiscriminately included all Haitians among their so-called "high risk groups", together with homosexual men and I.V. drug users. In that regard, positions were taken and official statements made in very irresponsible manners by people who should have known better. As a consequence of their ignorance, their lack of sensitivity and their unscientific behavior, a whole nation was stigmatized. And still remains maligned, as proven by Donald Trump's alleged accusation.

I remember, in the 1980s, hearing or reading statements originating from the Center for Disease Control, the American Red Cross, other Public Health Services and the press, which seemed to be geared toward blaming Haitians as a whole. Indeed, the C.D.C. did not hesitate in creating their Haitian high risk category in order to prove a priori, their wrong and blatantly prejudicial theory that the disease was brought to the U.S. by Haitians who themselves got it in Africa. Sounds familiar? Haiti? Africa? Same black geographical areas that were allegedly labelled "S....holes" by Donald Trump. Indeed, no other AIDS victims in the United States were ever identified by nationality, no mention was ever made of how many Jews, Germans, Italians, etc. were affected. This scandalous classification by the Center for Disease Control reminds of the time when, in Nazi Germany, Jews were accused of being carriers of all kinds of plagues, and there were great German doctors to prove it. It also reminds of the years when, in the United States, it was repeated that drug addiction was a problem of Black people.

With all the savoir-faire necessary, several Haitian organizations and good citizens here protested, but in vain. The C.D.C., the American Red Cross, other Public Health Services, the Medias continued to exhibit their irresponsible attitudes, a process that continued systematically for several years. In April 1985 there was, on paper, a change announced by the C.D.C. On the occasion of the so-called "Removal" of the Haitians, Dr. Walter Dowdle, Head of the C.D.C. declared:

"The one thing that struck out was the Haitians who were listed not because of what

they did, but who they are. That always bothered us".

Really? If it bothered them so much, why did they keep repeating it for seven years? And even while supposedly removing the Haitians from their list, on that same occasion in April 1985, Dr. James Curran, Head of the C.D.C.'s Task Force on AIDS stabbed them in the back when he said:

"We acknowledge that we don't know the risk factors for the majority of them" (Haitians)".

Really? They did not know, or were they, for political convenience and blatant cowardice, refusing to acknowledge the truth that the Haitian Community had been screaming all over for so long. Removing the categorization was not enough without recognizing the real culprit publicly, that is, the presence in Haiti of their infected fellow citizens.

On March 14, 1983, two years before the so-called "removal", at a press conference called in Philadelphia by the "Coalition for Haitian Concerns", the probability was discussed that the disease was introduced in Haiti by promiscuous American tourists. At that time all Haitians knew of the hundreds of such individuals who had made Haiti their prime destination to patronize several hotels which, with the complicit acceptance by the Jean-Claude Duvalier Government, specialized in catering to the needs of that clientele. The employees who worked there vending their services to the promiscuous American tourists had no way of knowing that they were being contaminated with a deadly plague so far inexistent in Haiti but suspected to be present in the United States since the 1970s. Eventually, under pressure from the people, the Haitian Government ordered those places closed.

In a 1985 Philadelphia Inquirer article, writer Mark Kurlansky wrote:

"Americans have now conceded that it is unlikely that the disease came from

Haiti. Haitians are beginning to suspect that Americans brought it to their island".

In another paragraph of the same article, Kurlansky repeats:

"Although American doctors have withdrawn the theory that the disease spread

from Haiti to the United States from Haiti, Haitian doctors are beginning to suspect

that the reverse may be true".

Well, the Haitians were not "beginning to suspect", they knew it all the time.

Writer Kurlansky continued by quoting Haitian physician, Dr. Rodolphe Mallebranche

as saying:

"Although it was said that Haiti gave the disease to the United States without

proof, we do not want to say that Americans brought it to us without any proof".

What professional honesty! What humility! What grandeur d'âme, on the part of a physician from our humble "S ... hole" nation, compared to the despicable behavior of famous American scientists. But it was too late. The Haitian tourist industry was destroyed, hundreds of Haitians in the U.S. lost their jobs or were unable to find employment, bus and subway passengers avoided sitting next to anybody who looked Haitian, children were harassed in school and parents had to keep them home, many suffered all kinds of public rejection and personal humiliation.

It is beyond understanding that, in spite of the constant efforts of the Haitian community and its friends, it took seven years for the so-called removal to occur and for obvious facts to timidly surface to the eyes of the American Medical authorities. Were they too happy to find a scapegoat? Were they a bunch of cowards afraid to point the fingers at the real culprits? At the same press conference called by the Coalition for Haitian Concerns in Philadelphia on March 14, 1983, the following statement was read and distributed:

"Our cry of alarm concerns the risk of further spreading of the American AIDS

outbreak to Haiti. The United States Public Health Services, instead of lumping

together drug addicts, homosexuals and Haitians should be working on some

means to quarantine the disease within the U.S. continental boundaries.

If not, the Haitians, from their situation of isolated victims and innocent scapegoats,

will become catastrophic casualties in their own land if nothing is done to prevent it".

That statement was not meant to be a prediction. Unfortunately it was! Today, with the meager means at their disposal, the Haitian Medical authorities and communities are trying their very best to control the disease imported from the United States. Meanwhile, one card is still missing on the table: A public formal apology to the Haitian people by the American Medical authorities.

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