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{Photo Credit: Mark Tuschman}Photo Credit: Mark Tuschman

There was an awkward silence and then soft giggling as the girls looked at each other. I had just finished talking about strategies for persuading sexual partners to use a condom. Laughter during these skills-building and girls empowerment sessions with 30+ secondary school students in Morogoro, Tanzania was not uncommon, particularly given the sometimes sensitive topics of discussion, but this time, the joke was lost on me.

I asked the student nearest to me, a confident teenager that I knew wouldn’t be too shy to respond, why everyone was laughing. She told me, “You speak about this as if we have a choice.” She wasn’t being sarcastic or combative, nor was she complaining - she was simply matter-of-fact about it, stating her truth.

2012 World AIDS Day event in Port au Prince, Haiti. From left to right: Pamela White, Ambassador of the United States to Haiti; Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS; Sophia Martelly, First Lady of Haiti; Florence Duperval Guillaume, Minister of Public Health and Population; and Guirlaine Raymond, Director General of the Ministry of Public Health and Population. {Photo credit: C.Gilmartin/MSH.}Photo credit: C.Gilmartin/MSH.

In recent years, Haiti has endured some of the greatest misfortunes in its history, including hurricanes, floods, the devastating 2010 earthquake, and the cholera epidemic that followed. These natural disasters and public health crises have added to the harm already caused by the country’s widespread poverty, social and political unrest, and under-resourced health system. Haiti’s fragile population is further plagued by the highest HIV prevalence in the Western Hemisphere at 1.9 percent, which translates to roughly 120,000 HIV-positive individuals and 93,000 children who have lost their parents to AIDS (UNAIDS, 2011).

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