Haitian Immigrants Dropped From CDC’s List Of AIDS High Risks
ATLANTA (AP) _ Haitian immigrants are no longer classified among groups listed as a high risk in contracting AIDS because scientists no longer could justify including them, the Centers For Disease Control has reported.
Dr. Walter Dowdle, director of the CDC’s Center for Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday the change was not because of political pressure and will not change public health policy concerning blood donations by Haitians.
AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is most common among homosexual or bisexual men. But the CDC, which began investigating the mysterious and often-fatal disease in 1981, also had identified Haitian immigrants, intravenous drug abusers and hemophiliacs as groups at high risk.
The CDC had included all four groups in its weekly reports of AIDS statistics. But in last week’s report, Haitians were dropped. Dowdle said the change was ″something we’ve been wanting to do″ for more than 11/2 years.
″The Haitians were ... the only (risk) group that were identified because of who they were rather than what they did,″ he said. ″... We just felt like, as the understanding of AIDS evolved ... it became less and less justifiable to include the Haitians as a pear among all the apples.″
Haitian immigrants initially were included in the CDC’s figures because there seemed to be an unusually high incidence of the disease among them, Dowdle said. Since then, researchers have learned that those numbers may have been due simply to a high incidence of the disease in their native country, he added.
″Initially, we didn’t know how AIDS was transmitted. We didn’t even know it was a virus. All we knew was that certain groups could be identified as having a higher incidence than others. As time has gone on and we know more and more about how it is transmitted, it becomes less of an issue to have an individual group listed,″ Dowdle said.
″We didn’t mean to single out or in any way treat the Haitians unfairly. It was there for a scientific reason. At the same time, we’re now making the changes for a scientific reason.″
Although there have been protests from Haitians that they did not belong on the CDC’s list, Dowdle said the decision to remove them was not a result of political pressure.
″We had had political pressure a year or so ago, but we really haven’t had any in the last year,″ he said.
In Miami, leaders of the Little Haiti district said they are pleased at the decision to drop Haitians from the list, but they complained Tuesday that the damage has already been done and that the AIDS scare has fostered racism against Haitians.
″I have been gratified by the decision,″ said Dr. Jean-Claude Desgranges, founder and coordinator of the Haitian Coalition on AIDS. ″From the beginning we have said that this is not fair and premature.″
He said the government’s previous linking of AIDS and Haitians has taken its toll, however.
″The Haitian community is suffering ... the stigma persists, at work, at home, at school,″ said Desgranges. ″Police are afraid of Haitians, ambulance workers are afraid of Haitians, health workers are afraid of Haitians.″
Dowdle said Haitians will stay on the Public Health Service list of groups who should not be allowed to donate blood because of the danger of transmitting the AIDS virus. That list, compiled in 1983, can be changed only by the health service, he said.
The CDC’s latest AIDS report, issued Monday, showed a total of 9,405 cases reported in this country. Of those, 285, or about 3 percent, were Haitians, Dowdle said. About 75 percent of those list in the report were homosexual or bisexual males.