NEW YORK — Jared Leto, Oscar-winning actor and lead singer of the band Thirty Seconds to Mars, has recently released a book full of photographs from his recent trip to Haiti. Leto spent part of his childhood in Haiti during the 1980s, when it was governed by Dictator du jour, Jean-Claude Duvalier, also known as Baby Doc.
Following the release of his book, on September 30, Leto participated in a fundraising concert and online conversation platform to raise awareness for Haiti and the development work that the UNDP has accomplished in the country. U.N. Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Jessica Faieta and Partners in Health expert Samantha Ender participated in the online discussion as well. Fifty people attended the event in Brooklyn, NYC, while many more participated through the live stream platform VyRT.
As part of the platform, Leto, Faieta and Enders answered questions about development and earthquake disaster relief efforts in Haiti as well as general questions about people’s lives within the country.
In recent years, despite the earthquake in 2010, Haiti has made significant progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals, also known as the MDGs. Haiti’s GDP per capita stands at $1,300, making it the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and one of the poorest of the world’s developing countries. According to the UNDP, Haiti has made significant strides, however, and already has or will reach some of the MDGs by the 2015 target date.
With regard to MDG 1, which seeks to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, Haiti has succeeded in stabilizing the extreme poverty rate at 24 percent. This is a seven percent decrease from 2000, when the extreme poverty rate rested at 31 percent. According to the CIA World Factbook, in 2003, 80 percent of the population lived below the poverty line. As of 2014, the national poverty rate now stands at 58.6 percent, a significant decrease from 11 years ago.
Haiti’s primary school enrollment rate has significantly increased since 1993; previously only 47 percent of children were enrolled in primary school, whereas the current enrollment rate is 88 percent. The UNDP heralds this increase as important progress toward achieving MDG 2, universal access and enrollment in primary school worldwide.
Haiti still has some work to do in achieving MDG 3, which promotes gender equality and the empowerment of women. While approximately 20 percent of government positions are held by women, only 4.3 percent of those positions are high-level positions such as member of Parliament.
Concerning vaccinations for easily preventable diseases such as, measles, mumps, chicken pox and rubella, Haiti’s situation has improved drastically. Whereas only 25 percent of children were vaccinated against measles in 1987, 85 percent of children in Haiti are now vaccinated for this easily preventable disease.
Maternal and infant mortality rates are still high in Haiti, which is the focus of MDG 5. A significant disparity can be seen between rural and urban areas with regard to maternal and infant mortality rates in the country. Sixty percent of women have skilled birth attendants present during childbirth in urban areas, but only 25 percent of women in rural areas have access to such personnel.
Prevalence of HIV/AIDS has also reduced somewhat in Haiti as education efforts are seeing greater success. The rate of HIV/AIDS in Haitians aged 15 to 24 currently stands at 0.9 percent compared to one percent in 2006. The UNDP has been successful with education and awareness efforts about the disease, specifically concerning how HIV/AIDS can be transmitted through breastfeeding. Forty-six percent of women in Haiti are now aware of the risks of breastfeeding with HIV/AIDS.
Leto and the UNDP hope to keep attention focused on Haiti through this book as the world turns to other issues such as the Ebola outbreak and the threat from ISIS. According to Leto, all of the proceeds from the book will go to help the earthquake disaster relief in Haiti.
– Erin Sullivan
Sources: UNDP 1, Huffington Post, UNDP 2, World Bank 1, CIA, UN, World Bank 2