Disappointment on targets, but Jamaica AIDS Support gives hope

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

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We share the disappointment of all the stakeholders and the country as a whole in hearing from local experts that Jamaica will not meet the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) 2020 target.

However, we are encouraged that the mechanism to meet the target exists locally, as we have seen where Jamaica AIDS Support for Life has already achieved one of the targets and is close to the 2020 goal of having 90 per cent of its more than 730 HIV-positive clients virally suppressed.

The 90-90-90 target, as it is more commonly known, seeks to ensure that by the year 2020, 90 per cent of all people living with HIV should know their HIV status; 90 per cent of all people diagnosed with HIV infection will receive sustained anti-retroviral therapy, and 90 per cent of all people receiving anti-retroviral therapy will be virally suppressed.

As we reported in our Monday edition, as at the end of March this year, only 84 per cent of individuals in Jamaica living with HIV have been diagnosed, 47 per cent of those diagnosed are on anti-retroviral treatment, and 62 per cent of those on anti-retroviral treatment are virally suppressed.

Our report also pointed out that of the approximately 32,000 people believed to be living with HIV in Jamaica, only 5,300 are unaware of their status. Additionally, 12,700 of those diagnosed are on anti-retroviral treatment and as many as 14,000 people living with HIV were diagnosed and linked to medical care, and then lost to care.

Last year, 1,600 people were newly infected with HIV, which, we believe, is a result of reckless behaviour spawned from a hiatus in the public education programme that was being run by the Health and Wellness Ministry in combination with agencies and non-governmental organisations up to about 10 years ago.

Indeed, that point was made by Dr Kevin Harvey, AIDS Healthcare Foundation's Caribbean regional director, in an interview with this newspaper ahead of the December 1 observance of World AIDS Day.

“We're not seeing the drop in new infections that we would have liked to see, and we are not seeing the responsible behaviour that we would have liked to see,” Dr Harvey said as he spoke about the fall-off in the campaigns.

Those robust campaigns, he recalled, dealt with adolescent health, sexual health in schools and condom-use. Unfortunately, the campaigns faltered due to funding “because the donors”, Dr Harvey explained, “started to move away from funding general population issues, which are the prevention issues”, opting instead to fund specific targeted group interventions.

He also pointed to the fallout in the sexual health and education curriculum in schools as another factor.

However, like Dr Harvey and the other health-care personnel, we hope that the new 'Dweet fi yuh best life' condom-use and prevention campaign will serve as a catalyst for a broader public education effort to stymie the HIV infection rate in the country.

At the same time, the State should take a serious look at what Jamaica AIDS Support for Life is doing, for it seems that that entity has a winning formula.


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