January 28th, 2010
11:59 AM ET

What is the risk of HIV infection in Haiti?

As a feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.

From Lise in Quebec:

How are you protecting yourself from AIDS while trying to help people in Haiti? I know AIDS was already prevalent there.


Lise, thank you for the question. Whenever possible, all medical professionals here in Haiti are following normal medical hygiene protocols; we wear gloves and make sure medical instruments are sanitized even if in some cases that’s done with alcohol.

Just to be clear, HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is not easily spread. In fact according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the chances of a health care worker becoming infected with HIV from an open cut or even an open wound is no higher than approximately .3 percent.

We asked Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, about the AIDS problem in Haiti during this crisis and he said that “(AIDS) is the very least of the problems that health care workers will face in Haiti. The prevalence of HIV in Washington, D.C., is higher than that in Haiti and so you can make the case that an emergency room health care personnel who sees a lot of trauma in a general hospital in D.C. is at an even greater risk of getting stuck with a contaminated needle…than is a health care worker in Haiti”

In recent years, Haiti has shown some improvement in infection rates and antiretroviral use. As of the United Nations’ last report, Haiti has lower HIV/AIDS prevalence than the Bahamas. According to the World Health Organization, two thirds of HIV infections are in sub-Saharan Africa.

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soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Jean

    I was concerned about your comments with Anderson Cooper about the baby that was 7 weeks early. Why were you talking about no food for the babies? What about breastmilk? Isn't that what is preferred to be given to a premie when possible? Is there anyone there to support the moms with breastfeeding or manually expressing milk to provide milk for the babies? That's the beauty of how a mother in a horrid situation like this can feed her child... No sterilization necessary. Breastmilk has live cells that eat bacteria. I've even heard of it used to treat eye infections in the old days.

    January 29, 2010 at 00:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. teletomtomsetapglot

    Thanks Dr Gupta for that answer, I hope people can live haiti alone when it comes to AIDS, I'm not sure Haiti alone took the blame for AIDS but according to the experts this answer shows Aids is not a Haitian problem, not to say haiti don't have AIDS.Nonetheless, I hope you and the others continue to help. Black does not automatically equal poverty or AIDs

    January 31, 2010 at 20:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Someone in awe of Dr. Gupta

    AIDS is running rampant in impoverished third world nations, and so I would have guessed Haiti is high on the list (as an impoverished third world nation).

    I would guess (and correct me if I'm wrong) that police officers in high crime U.S. areas are more at risk of AIDS due to being attacked by drug addicts with infected needles, than doctors in even the most infected third world nation of genteel people in need of your help.

    As an aside, seems unless a doctor is butterfingers in handling syringes, and he or she wouldn’t be a doctor if he or she were, I seriously doubt any doctor (maybe 1 in 1 million?) get stuck by a needle to begin with! You never struck me as a klutz, Dr. Gupta, and your risk of getting HIV from a patient in an impoverished nation you visit is probably close to zero if not zero.

    February 26, 2010 at 00:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. a reader

    if anyone reading this wants to know why AIDS is connected unfairly with Haiti, read "Infections and Inequalities" by Dr. Paul Farmer.

    March 4, 2010 at 10:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Susan Turner

    What if we had a Value added Tax to pay for healthcare? Each person would pay a tax on purchases and those that spend more pay more. We could all share in this according to our buying power.

    This would be a non raidable fund to be used ONLY for healthcare for us all.

    I am appalled at the callousness of those opposed to helping our people who cannot afford the costs of getting care. What kind of values do they have?

    March 23, 2010 at 11:48 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.