“We believe in social justice and health care for all. It’s like you need food to live—you need to be in good health to be able to live a good life. Health care is a right that every human should have.”
Loune Viaud was born in Haiti in 1966. In the 1980s, she organized programs for street children in poor areas of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. In 1988, she was present for the St. Jean Bosco massacre, an attack on a church that left at least 13 dead. Following the attack, she fled Haiti and moved to Boston. In Boston, Viaud became active with Partners in Health, an organization working to bring health care to the world’s poorest families. She founded several programs for the Haitian immigrant community in Boston, including “Haitian Teens Confront AIDS.”
Viaud returned to Haiti in 1990 following the democratic election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. That year, she helped found Proje Sante Fanm, Haiti’s first women’s health clinic. She also started a gender awareness training program for health care workers and launched women’s literacy projects and scholarship programs. In addition, Viaud implemented projects focused on AIDS education and prevention in her homeland.
After a powerful earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, Viaud focused her energy on providing care to Haiti’s most vulnerable populations. She partnered with the government and other organizations to help establish a children’s shelter for orphaned and abandoned children. Named Zamni Beni, meaning “Blessed Friends,” the shelter is staffed by caregivers responsible for providing ongoing educational, emotional and psychosocial support to orphans.
Today, Viaud serves as Executive Director of Zanmi Lasante, Partners in Health’s sister organization in Haiti. Her expertise informed a grant proposal to the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculous and Malaria and resulted in a $67 million grant to Haiti and Zanmi Lasante, making it the largest AIDS treatment program in the world.
Viaud has been honored by many poor communities in Haiti over the years. In 2000, she received a Peace and Justice Award from the Cambridge Peace Commission. In 2002, she received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award for her work with the group to provide health care in Haiti. Partners in Health co-founder Paul Farmer has said of Viaud’s work, "It’s no exaggeration to claim that Loune’s pragmatic solidarity has reached hundreds of thousands of Haitian women living in poverty."
WHY DOES REVEALING THE TRUTH MATTER?
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The average Haitian lives on just US$1,730 per year. Compare this to the average for Caribbean/Latin American developing countries where the Gross National Income per capita is $14,098. Fifty-nine percent of the population lives on less than US$2 per day, and 24.7% lives in extreme poverty on less than US$1.25 per day. Over two-thirds of the labor force do not have formal jobs.
Life expectancy in Haiti is 63 years, almost 16 years shorter than in the U.S. 30% of the population is considered food insecure. 2.1% of adults are HIV positive, and 188 per 100,000 Haitians have tuberculosis. 67 of every 1,000 babies born in Haiti will die before the age of 5.
The 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010 was the most devastating natural disaster ever experienced in Haiti. Roughly 250,000 Haitians lost their lives and 300,000 more were injured. Haiti has suffered setbacks from other natural disasters since. From 2015-16, more than 1 million Haitians were affected by drought. In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm, caused massive destruction and displacement. Today, progress has been made in recovering from these disasters, but many Haitians still lack access to basic resources.