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A Piece of My Mind
December 15, 1999

AIDS in Paradise

Author Affiliations

Edited by Roxanne K. Young, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1999;282(23):2195-2196. doi:10.1001/jama.282.23.2195

In 1969, when I married and moved to the Dominican Republic, a small Caribbean nation occupying the eastern two thirds of the island of Hispaniola, I never realized that its location next to Haiti and its fame as an island paradise for tourists would place me—14 years later—in the midst of an epidemic.

In the early 1980s, reports of "slim's disease" in Haiti and of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in the United States suggested to me that the Dominican Republic might also have cases. I assumed that tourists and Haitians coming across the border would bring the disease here. As a professor of microbiology at a local medical school, I enlisted students to help collect blood samples from Haitian sugar cane workers living in bateys or plantations, from employees in hotels in Santo Domingo frequented by homosexual males, and from heterosexual students at the university as a control group. No cases of AIDS were detected. All blood samples were sent to the University of California (San Francisco) in April 1983 for potential detection of known viruses that could possibly be involved in this new disease.

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