Untreated AIDS and COVID in Haiti: Why the Dominican Republic is Putting Up a Wall

In recent weeks, the emergence of new strains of COVID-19 in South Africa and Brazil threaten to undo much of the progress that many countries have made in bringing the pandemic under control. Scientists who were at the end of 2020 excited to see the pandemic ending shortly, quickly saw themselves sink into despair as data began to emerge of what happens when someone with untreated HIV comes down afflicted by COVID-19 for long periods of time.

The Los Angeles Times recently wrote that a "scenario involving an immunocompromised patient somewhere in England may have spawned the mutations that distinguish the U.K. strain."

A preliminary study on medRxiv highlighted the alarming threat that untreated HIV poses to worsening the world's ability to bring the coronavirus under control. The study's authors wrote: "In South Africa, the country with the world’s biggest HIV epidemic, one concern has been the possibility of prolonged viral replication and intra-host evolution in the context of HIV infection."

At the start of the pandemic, then-President Danilo Medina shut down the border after receiving the shocking results of a study by Imperial College London which revealed that unmitigated spread of the virus would result in over 2 million dead in the United States alone.

We're more than a year into the pandemic and the situation has only marginally improved, with the President of the Dominican Republic receiving classified information that a new, deadly strain of the coronavirus is almost certain to emerge in Haiti, a nation where 1 in 50 individuals is living with HIV, many of them untreated/undiagnosed.

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President Luis Abinader, himself a descent of Arab immigrants, shocked the world after the announcement to build a sophisticated, expensive barrier with its poorer neighbor, not revealing the exact reason for the urgent necessity to make sure that everyone walking around the Dominican Republic could be accounted for and easily reached by health authorities.

The Dominican Republic is no stranger to diseases coming from Haiti which have crippled parts of the state, with cholera killing over 500 Dominicans in recent years.

As the Dominican Republic seeks to recover economically after the pandemic is brought under control, tourism dollars will become even more crucially important to the economy, something which could jeopardize Mr. Abinader's reelection should a new strain of COVID emerge in Haiti that could undo the country's progress.

The Dominican Republic may be the first nation to announce that it is increasing the security of its border to prevent the spread of a new COVID strain, but it's inevitable that other nations will follow.