'Too high'

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'Too high'

Health minister says number of newly HIV-infected people concerning

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Senior staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

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THERE were 700 new HIV cases diagnosed last year, setting off alarm bells for Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton, who yesterday raised concern that the number of newly infected people each year “is too high”.

The minister was speaking in the Lower House in recognition of World AIDS Day, under this year's theme: 'Global Solidarity through our Shared Responsibility'.

According to Tufton, 4,500 or 14 per cent of individuals living with HIV in Jamaica are unaware of their status.

He also reported that only 14,297 or 44 per cent of those diagnosed are on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, and only 66 per cent of those on treatment are virally suppressed.

In response, he said the National HIV Programme has continued to offer services, including the development of a response team with partners and civil society organisations, to ensure: the supply chain is maintained; prevention activities were implemented safely and respectfully to all populations; service delivery was maintained within the country for people living with HIV; the continued provision of social services; development of protocols to engage clients within this setting; mechanisms to continue health system strengthening; and mechanisms to ensure that human rights are protected and maintained.

He pointed out that the Ministry of Health and Wellness, from 2018, mandated the dispensing of multi-months of antiretroviral drugs, although the onset of novel coronavirus disrupted global supply chains, from sourcing of base products to manufacturing and logistics in air freight.

This, Tufton said, was compounded with the lockdown of India, the major manufacturer of ARVs worldwide.

“Despite this threat, Jamaica, through monitoring and proactive interventions, has been able to maintain an uninterrupted supply of ARVs to PLHIVs [people living with HIV] for the past three years. Through collaborations with private pharmacies across the island, increased locations to access ARVs have also been provided.

“Our work is not done; and we acknowledge the concerns expressed by the PLHIV community and we are reinforcing our commitment to providing access to medication and monitoring supplies. This will ensure the standard of service delivery is maintained and each PLHIV can achieve viral suppression and live their best life,” said Tufton.

Opposition spokesman on health Dr Morais Guy, at the same time, expressed unease that Jamaica's viral suppression level remains below the mark.

“Part of it is that with the coming of COVID-19 and the need for the COBAS [6800] machine at the National Public Health Laboratory to be tasked for PCR [polymerase chain reaction] testing for COVID, there has been a reduction in the number of cases, and as UNAIDS reported, a backlog in the number of viral suppression tests that have been done, so we do not know the full numbers right now,” Guy noted.

He said with additional machinery now in place at the National Public Health Laboratory and the capacity over what is being done now, coupled with the advent of antigen testing, the time is right to test viral loads “so that we can have a fair idea so that we can reduce also the transmission of HIV/AIDS”.

He said studies have demonstrated that where there are low viral loads, the likelihood of transmission of HIV is less during intercourse.


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