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Posted July 22, 2003
U.S. launches Bush AIDS program in Haiti
By Michael Norton, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jul. 22 - Haiti has become the first country in the world to implement a program spearheaded by President Bush to stem mother-to-child HIV/AIDS transmission.

The mother-to-child program is a part of Bush's proposal to spend $15 billion over five years to help the hardest-hit African and Caribbean nations battle AIDS and the virus that leads to the disease.

Haiti and Guyana were the two Caribbean countries selected for the Bush administration initiative. "Haiti was chosen because it is (the) readiest to go ahead," said U.S. Ambassador Brian Dean Curran, launching the program on Monday at the Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections Clinic.

The clinic treated more than 21,000 patients last year and has opened 25 treatment centers nationwide where people are tested and counseled.

Some $4 million has been earmarked for the first year of the five-year program in Haiti. The United States expects to spend $60 million on AIDS in Haiti over the next five years.

The program should affect as many as 1 million women every year and reduce the possibility of mother-to-child transmission by 40 percent within five years, officials said.

In that time, 850,000 mothers should be tested, and 25,000 given AIDS drugs, said Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

With at least 300,000 of Haiti's 8.8 million people infected, AIDS is the leading cause of death for sexually active adults. An estimated 30,000 died last year and many cases go unreported.

The Caribbean has the world's second highest infection rate after sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 2.3 percent of people, or 500,000, — excluding Cuba, where infections rates are low — have HIV. Every year, between 4,000 and 6,000 children are born with HIV.

In the past two years, the United States has spent some $1.5 billion annually on AIDS and it will be increased to $3 billion a year under Bush's plan, officials said.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press

Posted July 9, 2003
AIDS patient gets pass from jail to die at home
By Noah Bierman and ManouchekA Celeste

An AIDS patient locked up for violating his drug probation got permission Tuesday to leave jail and die at home after a senior judge overruled a fellow member of the bench.

''The way things were, we thought he was going to die in jail,'' said Guilda Dolce, who testified that cousin Jean Felix could stay at her Fort Lauderdale home. ``I know he was happy.''

Jail medical authorities have testified that Felix, 41, has only about two months to live. If he stays in jail and completes his eight-month sentence in September, he could die sooner because of exposure to other inmates' infections and germs.

Last week, Broward Circuit Judge Cheryl Aleman said Felix had to stay locked up, even though jail officials suggested he leave and prosecutors agreed to it.

''It is really difficult to tell what the life expectancy is of the defendant,'' Aleman said, according to a transcript of last week's hearing. ``The defense concedes two, three, four, six months. Nobody knows, to use the words of the defense counsel when asked how long.''

Steven Michaelson, chief assistant public defender, filed another emergency request Monday. And, with Aleman out of town, Chief Judge Dale Ross agreed Tuesday to let Felix stay with his cousin for up to six months.

Ross issued the original sentence when Felix tested positive for cocaine while on probation for another drug possession charge.

Born in Haiti, he spoke in court through a translator and allowed medical authorities to disclose his condition. Felix came to South Florida from Haiti in 1986, according to Dolce, who spoke to the Herald in Creole. Felix's teenage son and daughter still live in Haiti and their mother is dead.

Although Felix has other cousins in South Florida, Dolce said he feels closest to her and that she would stand by him.

Michaelson had promised Aleman that Felix would return to jail if he outlasted his furlough. Tuesday, in front of Ross, he brought more witnesses, including Felix's jail doctor and a psychologist who talked about how his life expectancy could improve if he's surrounded by family, according to attorneys.

''The Legislature passed drug offender laws to protect people from hurting themselves by using drugs,'' Michaelson said in court last week.

``I don't think they envisioned this scenario when they passed those laws. I think regardless of the sentence that the court imposed in this [case], God imposed a greater sentence.''

Prosecutor Gary Cole said he's satisfied that Felix would probably not be able to commit new crimes if let out of jail because he'll be bedridden soon.

Felix will also be required to call the Broward Sheriff's Office on a daily basis while on furlough.

''Compassion tells us we should probably let him be released,'' Cole said.

Reprinted from The Miami Herald of July 9, 2003.

Posted July 7, 2003
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Widow aims to improve emergency medical care in Haiti
By Alva James-Johnson, Staff Writer

Tears still flow when Dominique Carvonis talks about her husband's death.

Six months ago, the couple was living happily in Haiti, he a dentist and she the owner of two luxury hotels. Then on Jan. 18, as they slept at 4 a.m., she felt his 6-foot-2 frame fall on top of her. When she asked what was wrong, he couldn't talk intelligibly and she discovered he was having a stroke (photos).

From there the story is a sad saga of how Dominique Carvonis and her family scrambled to get Michel Carvonis emergency care in one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.

How they threw him in the back of her Montero because there was no ambulance service on the island. How the hospital in Port au Prince had no CAT scan, forcing them to drive an hour just to get a diagnosis. How an air ambulance flew Michel Carvonis to Cedars Medical Center in Miami on Jan. 20 at 2 in the morning, when it was already too late.

And how he died four days later at age 53 outside of the country he called home.

Now Dominique Carvonis, 46, is mixing the tears with action. She was in South Florida last week on a mission to build an intensive care unit and emergency room in Haiti, a project that is estimated to cost $3.5 million for the first phase. So far, based only on word-of-mouth, $20,000 has been raised toward that goal, she said.

"If he had gotten immediate treatment, maybe he would have had a chance of being saved," Dominique Carvonis said of her husband.

Helping her with the project is Dr. Reginald Pereira, the physician who attended to Michel Carvonis when he finally arrived at Cedars. He put Dominique Carvonis in contact with the medical center's chief executive officer, who agreed to have the hospital donate equipment, he said.

Pereira also plans to provide medical and technical aid, traveling to Haiti several times a year to help train physicians, check on patients and assist with the emergency room and ICU setup.

He said Michel Carvonis might have lived if the hospital in Haiti had a CAT scan to make a quick diagnosis and if a medication was prescribed to dissolve the clot that blocked oxygen to his brain.

"You never know," he said. "If you have a stroke, the first four to six hours are critical to decide how to treat it."

Pereira said the Carvonis case is not unusual. He regularly receives calls from doctors in Haiti who want to rush their patients to Miami for emergency care for car-accident injuries, gunshot wounds, strokes, heart attacks and postoperative complications.

Some of the patients make it to the medical center and get the care they need. Some die before they get there. Others, like Michel Carvonis, die in Miami.

One such case was Pereira's 72-year-old aunt, Claudette Ledan, who died Sept. 22. He said that after she had a heart attack in Haiti, her physicians called him from the hospital and asked him to arrange to have her flown into Miami. He went to the island by air ambulance and had her flown to Cedars, where she underwent open-heart surgery. She never woke up.

As a pulmonary and critical care specialist who happens to be Haitian, Pereira said it's difficult to watch so many people, including his relatives, suffer because of the poor health care on the island. It's one of the reasons he went into the medical field.

"You're frustrated," he said. "I tried some projects to make the situation better, but they didn't go well. It's a Third World country, and everything is political in Haiti, so you learn to live with it."

None of Haiti's hospitals has an ICU or emergency room, Pereira said. He said he's glad to see a private citizen trying to make a difference.

"I don't want other people to have the same experience before they do something," he said.

Doctors at the Canape Vert hospital were the first to treat Dominique Carvonis' husband the night he took ill, but she doesn't blame them.

"There are a lot of good doctors there, but they don't have the equipment," she said. "I'm the person that will link the doctors to the equipment that's appropriate to their needs."

She said she never thought she would be leading such an effort. A native of Haiti, she graduated from Florida International University in 1978 with a bachelor's degree in hospitality management. From there, she went to New York to work at the Plaza Hotel and later the Helmsley Plaza. She lived in Europe before moving back to Haiti in 1982 to start her own business, managing the two hotels.

That's when she met Michel Carvonis, a Tunisia-born dentist with a thriving practice. They married and had two children, raising them along with two others that Michel Carvonis had from a first marriage.

"He was a very humanitarian person," she said. "Very lively and very well-known. He always dreamed of having a decent hospital in Haiti."

While she always wanted to do humanitarian aid work, she didn't think it would be so soon. "I saw myself doing projects, helping people. But not now, 20 years from now," she said. "I was always so busy."

But her husband's death changed her life. She donated his organs to a company called Life Alliance Organ Recovery Agency in Miami. And at his funeral services -- one in Miami that drew 100 people and one in Haiti that drew 3,000 -- she announced her plans for the Michel Carvonis Foundation. Since then she has raised $20,000 and gained enthusiastic support from Haitians on the island and throughout the United States. She has also been expanding her late husband's practice, adding new dentists and services.

She knows that is what Michel Carvonis would want her to do, she said. "I feel like he's with me, and that's what keeps me going."

Alva James-Johnson can be reached at or 954-356-4523.

Copyright 2003, Sun-Sentinel Co.

Posted July 3, 2003
Bush taps former drug executive to run AIDS plan
By Patricia Wilson, Reuters Writer

WASHINGTON, Jul. 2 (Reuters) - On the eve of a trip to Africa where AIDS tops the agenda, President Bush on Wednesday named a former drug company executive to head a $15 billion U.S. program to combat the disease worldwide.

His appointment of Randall Tobias, the retired chairman and chief executive officer of the Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co., drew immediate criticism from AIDS activists who said his connections to the pharmaceutical industry would raise conflict-of-interest issues.

"Randy Tobias has a mandate directly from me to get our AIDS initiative up and running as soon as possible," Bush told reporters at the White House. "We will set up a broad and efficient network to deliver drugs to the farthest reaches of Africa, even by motorcycle or bicycle."

Bush leaves on a five-day visit to Senegal, South Africa, Nigeria, Botswana and Uganda on Monday. The trip will focus on security and regional conflicts, economic development, promotion of democracy and the fight against AIDS.

Tobias, a substantial donor to the Republican Party and Bush's political campaigns, will have the rank of ambassador, making his job subject to Senate confirmation. Critics predicted he would face some opposition.

According to the United Nations UNAIDS agency, 42 million people are infected with HIV worldwide -- 29.4 million of them in Africa.

Tobias, appearing in the Roosevelt Room with Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and other U.S. officials, called AIDS statistics in Africa "nearly incomprehensible."

"AIDS has already killed almost 20 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is the number one cause of death," Tobias said. "And, without intervention, it will claim the lives of one quarter of the population in the next decade."

Salih Booker, executive director of the Africa Action advocacy group, said Tobias' appointment showed that Bush's AIDS policy really lay "with the big drug companies."

He criticized the administration for its trade policy blocking African access to lower cost generic AIDS drugs, and for failing to fully fund the $3 billion first-year installment of Bush's AIDS initiative.

In May, Bush signed into law a $15 billion plan to help combat the disease in Africa and the Caribbean, tripling U.S. spending over five years.

The new law, a surprise priority in the president's State of the Union address, means anti-viral treatment will be available to about 2 million HIV-infected people in Africa and the Caribbean who cannot afford the costly cocktail of drugs that can prolong and improve their lives.

It also provides hospice care for the dying, helps some of the 13 million children who have lost one or both parents and intensifies prevention programs through strategies like sexual abstinence education and promotion of condom use.

The White House said the plan had the potential to prevent 7 million new HIV infections within a decade.

The AIDS initiative focuses principally on Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, as well as Guyana and Haiti in the Caribbean.

Copyright 2003 Reuters Limited. Reprinted from The Sun-Sentinel of July 5, 2003.                                         , the scholarly journal of democracy and human rights
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