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Haitian First Lady Calls for Health Funds

By Eden B. Mcdowell, Contributing Writer

The First Lady of Haiti argued Friday that the international community should release funds directed at her nation’s struggling health care system that have been withheld since a disputed 2000 parliamentary election.

At a speech at the School of Public Health’s Center for Population and Development Studies, Mildred Aristide explained that she could not speak about health challenges in Haiti without also speaking about international politics.

Aristide said that poverty has prevented Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, from effectively combating the spread of AIDS. Currently, 300,000 Haitians suffer from the disease, and 60 percent of the population outside the capitol of Port au Prince lacks access to health care.

As yet, the Haitian government has not received any of the $22.2 million promised to their national health care system by the international community, she said.

The aid was part of a $146 million package of loans to the government that was suspended after the 2000 elections, in which the first lady’s husband—Jean-Bertrand Aristide—secured the presidency. Seven senatorial seats were contested and the controversy ignited questions concerning the legitimacy of the Aristide government.

The first lady arrived at Harvard a day after delivering a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington in which she made an appeal for renewed aid.

“The health care needs of 8 million people have become embroiled in a political fight,” she said Thursday.

On Friday at Harvard, Aristide said that the current situation is one in which “health care has been held hostage.”

In the speech, Aristide echoed her husband’s words, that “everyone has a right to live,” and said that allowing these potentially life-saving loans to be blocked, for any reason, is wrong.

Michael Reich, director of the School of Public Health center, praised the First Lady as an “eloquent, passionate, and honest” advocate for her country before the fifty or so assembled graduate students and professors.

“The speech was able to contextualize our campaign for humanitarian rights,” said Mildred M. Dorsinville, a Haitian native and Kellog fellow at the center.

In a question and answer period that followed the speech, audience members asked what could be done to motivate the U.S. government to act on the loans.

Aristide said that continued internal pressure would be welcome.

One audience member offered a less orthodox response, suggesting that Haiti could secure U.S. aid if it marched on Iraq.

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