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Patient Privacy In Haiti: “She Has AIDS” Via A Secret Note

I can’t get the stories of Haiti out of my mind. A patient showed up at the Port au Prince hospital ward with a massive left sided paralysis: an obvious stroke. This 48-year-old woman had collapsed the day before and was now accompanied by her three grown daughters, who were most attentive and worried. I examined her in the bed with other patients and families gathered around. (There is no sense of privacy and even an exam seems to be everyone’s business in Haiti). One daughter spoke broken English, but I had a good translator that helped me get the information I needed. It was a sad story.

They had been on the 5th floor when the earthquake hit. They fell straight down and dad was killed. One of the children had a crush injury to his leg and the entire remaining family was now “on the street.” Just surviving must have been such a strain — then mom has a massive stroke.

As I was examining the patient further, one daughter handed me a quickly scrawled note. It read: “I have a problem. She have AIDS.” In this private way, the daughter wanted me to know her mom had AIDS.

In a country with such poverty, lack of healthcare and lack of education, it is not a surprise that HIV and AIDS remains a significant problem and Haiti is the Caribbean island most affected by AIDS. There also remains a stigma and HIV infection is a big secret. Once I asked my Haitian interpreter to ask an emaciated patient if he was HIV positive, but the interpreter couldn’t even ask the question. It is just not done. It was a real act of bravery for that daughter to pass me the secret note.

Needless to say, AIDS will be the least of this family’s problem. I can’t begin to imagine how a woman with a stroke, who will likely not receive any rehabilitation, can live on the street. By the time I left, she needed two people to assist her out of bed into a chair, where she could not sit straight.

This is the continued tragedy of the earthquake and the aftermath of human misery it left.

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*


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