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Haiti Hosts Opening Ceremony of the 2009 International AIDS Candlelight Memorial: Worldwide Events Commence With the Announcement of a National HIV Testing Campaign in Haiti
Date:5/16/2009

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, May 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The opening ceremony of the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial was held tonight in Haiti, kicking off over 1,000 Candlelight events in more than 100 countries as part of the world's oldest and largest HIV/AIDS grassroots mobilization event. Haiti was selected as the host country for the opening ceremony because of recent signs of progress the impoverished Caribbean country has shown in the response to AIDS. The event is being co-hosted by the Global Health Council and Promoteurs Objectif Zero Sida (POZ), a nongovernmental organization that provides prevention and counseling services around the country.

As part of the commemoration, President Rene Garcia Preval and Prime Minister Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis encouraged the Haitian people to learn their HIV status and renewed the government's commitment to fight HIV/AIDS with a new six-month initiative to increase HIV/AIDS testing across the country. The Abbott Fund, the philanthropic foundation of the global health care company Abbott, is supporting this program by donating 500,000 rapid HIV testing kits. The testing initiative is a cooperative partnership between the Haitian government, the U.S. government, the Abbott Fund and local health implementing organizations that are working to stop HIV/AIDS in Haiti every day.

"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," said Dr. Myrna Eustache, Interim Director of POZ. "It is a tremendous honor for POZ to be the co-host organization to launch the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial programs in Haiti and to see that our country is recognized worldwide for the positive work we are doing to stop HIV/AIDS."

"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 A. Sanderson. "As we remember and pray for those we have lost, 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. They work tirelessly to teach prevention, improve the quality of life of those who have the virus, and combat discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS."

Once the country most severely impacted by AIDS in the western hemisphere, Haiti has shown signs of progress in recent years, bringing HIV prevalence down in areas as a result of an increase in partnerships and prevention. Approximately 120,000 Haitians are living with HIV/AIDS today, and the adult prevalence rate is 2.2 percent, according to UNAIDS statistics. While signs indicate some relief from the AIDS pandemic, poverty and recent natural disasters in Haiti have slowed progress in preventing and treating the disease.

"Identifying people with HIV is the first step in getting them into treatment and having them take measures to prevent transmission," said Katherine F. Pickus, Vice President, Abbott Fund. "We have been part of national testing programs in countries with limited resources, so we know it can have an impact here. We are proud to be part of this effort."

The Candlelight Memorial opening ceremony was held at Sans Souci, the historic palace ruins of revolutionary Haitian King Henri Christophe near the northern city of Cap Haitian, where leaders and health groups were joined by representatives of international organizations to remember those lost to AIDS, to advocate for improved programs and policies and to celebrate the courage of Haitians living with the disease. Activities began at 4:00 p.m. with a march that included thousands of Haitians and culminated in the lighting of the official "candle that lights around the world."

For more information about the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, a program of the Global Health Council, go to www.candlelightmemorial.org. The Ford Foundation and the Abbott Fund are major supporters of the IACM.

The Global Health Council is the world's largest membership alliance dedicated to saving lives by improving health throughout the world. The Council serves and represents health organizations and professionals working in over 100 countries. www.globalhealth.org

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    301-502-8563 or lbarnitz@gmail.com
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SOURCE Global Health Council
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