Haitian AIDS Center, Oldest in Caribbean, Is Establishing New Institute To Fight AIDS and Other Infectious Diseases

Special Gala Raises Funds and Honors Weill Cornell's Dr. Warren Johnson

Jan 2, 2002


GHESKIO—a leading Haitian health facility dedicated since 1982 to research, services, and training in HIV/AIDS and other deadly infectious diseases—observed World AIDS Day last December 1 by holding a gala with hundreds of guests to raise funds for a new Institute to replace its present, outgrown quarters. GHESKIO (Groupe Haitien d'Etudes du Sarcome de Kaposi et des Infections Opportunistes) is the second oldest institution in the world, after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dedicated to the fight against AIDS, and it has been in the forefront of many medical achievements.

Its new and expanded Institute, to be constructed on a new site, will be known as the Institute of Infectious Diseases and Reproductive Health.

GHESKIO and Weill Cornell Medical College

The connection of GHESKIO to Weill Cornell Medical College dates from the Haitian Center's very beginning. Dr. Jean Pape, Director of GHESKIO, is a 1975 graduate of the Medical College and is now a Professor of Medicine there. Dr. Warren D. Johnson, Jr., B.H. Kean Professor of Tropical Medicine at Weill Cornell and Chief of International Medicine and Infectious Diseases at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, was instrumental in the founding and guidance of GHESKIO from the start.

GHESKIO was the source of the first scientific study of AIDS in Haiti, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1983. GHESKIO's efforts have led to improvements in anti-HIV/AIDS training and prevention, and to marked declines in HIV infection in Haiti. The institution has also been responsible for new interventions against infantile diarrhea, leading to a reduction in mortality from 40% to less than 1% at the University Hospital in Port-au-Prince. GHESKIO is credited with the large decline in infant mortality in Haiti nationally. And GHESKIO has played a leading role in the fight against tuberculosis, sexually transmitted disease, and other diarrheal diseases.

At the gala, the long-standing ties between Haiti's physicians and Weill Cornell were reaffirmed with the bestowing of the Award of Honneur et Merite on Dr. Johnson. Dr. Johnson was cited for mentoring over 100 Haitian physicians in the past 30 years, and for his continual efforts on behalf of the health of Haitians.

A New and Expanded Institute

GHESKIO needed to hold a fundraiser, because, as Dr. Pape explained, the Center's present building, at 33 Boulevard Harry Truman, in Port-au-Prince—though it has been expanded with the help of the Japanese government, the French Cooperation, the United Nations Fund for Population, and U.S. Agency for International Development—has not been able to keep up with an annual 25% increase in patients and a large increase in the demand for training.

Eight years ago, a group of professionals from the private sector, from disciplines not related to health, created FHAME (La Fondation Haitienne de Maladies Endémiques), a U.S. tax-exempt foundation whose sole purpose is to support GHESKIO. In 1997, FHAME purchased two acres for a new Center. But this was still not enough, and so, FHAME and the foundation of SOGEBANK (the largest Haitian bank), with the patronage of the ambassadors of the United States and France, planned a gala fundraiser for the recent World AIDS Day. The fundraiser will lead to the creation of the newly named Institute of Infectious Diseases and Reproductive Health.

Support for New Institute

The gala fundraiser was "successful beyond our wildest dreams," said Dr. Pape. All 700 tickets to it were sold, at the equivalent of $60US each, a large sum in Haiti. In addition:

  • The Society of Rum Barbancourt and the SOGEBANK Foundation each contributed three acres of land toward the new, still larger facility.
  • An insurance company provided $60,000 to secure a wall around the new property.
  • Thirty-three different businesses have pledged to contribute to build the new, $6 million center.
  • The Merieux laboratories of France and the French government said they would support the construction of a new laboratory in the amount of $3 million.

Dr. Pape said he is still seeking to raise $3 million more in the U.S. to complete the new, larger center, and he and others are actively engaged in these efforts.

Just recently, the French government, the Merieux Foundation, and Biomerieux expressed a desire to begin the project as early as January 2002.

Dr. Warren Johnson

Dr. Johnson received the Honneur et Merite Award for his years of support to the improvement of the health of the Haitian people. Dr. Johnson, the citation said, is "an internationally recognized expert in infectious diseases," and, "He has also been a great friend of Haiti."