There is a dire need for interventions that will address the multiple factors--poverty, substance use, early sexual debut, and violence--that influence Haitian youth's engagement in risky behaviors. The deteriorating socioeconomic and political state of the country has had a deleterious effect on the sociocultural milieu and on the boundaries that have heretofore kept risky behaviors in check. Historically, the lakou system, a community-based approach that supports the family unit, has disintegrated, leading to the disruption of traditional parenting patterns. The unstable economic system has also led to the increasing use of children from poor families, who through the restavek system, are sent to work as servants in other households. The breakdown of traditional systems, coupled with the increasing economic and political instability, has had a significant effect on Haitian adolescents. Among boys, increased levels of substance use have been associated with multiple sex partnerships and very early sexual debut. Among girls, extremely high rates of sexual abuse and forced sex have led to relatively high levels of HIV. While the majority of them have been exposed to behavior change messages, behavior change itself has lagged because many adolescents do not accurately perceive their risk exposure. This review explores the risks of HIV transmission among Haitian youth, with a focus on vulnerability factors, including substance use, culture, and the socioeconomic context, and provides recommendations for intervention. An ecosystemic approach, designed specifically for Haitian youth and that takes environmental context and culture into account, is needed.
Keywords: HIV risk behaviors; Haiti; youth.
© The Author(s) 2011.