Jamaica on track to end mother-to-child transmission of HIV

BY ANIKA RICHARDS Online/Health coordinator richardsai@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, July 18, 2015

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JAMAICA is poised to become the first English-speaking Caribbean country to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

This is according to Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson, who made the disclosure in a recent interview with the Jamaica Observer.

Following the World Health Organization's announcement, recently, that Cuba is the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child HIV transmission, Dr Ferguson weighed in on what Cuba's achievement meant to Jamaica, and provided an update on the local effort towards meeting the regional elimination goal of less than two per cent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

"Cuba has always been the leader within this region relative to health and education, one could argue, and we have learnt much from Cuba, both by virtue of our visits there and... the opportunity of many of our health workers having the opportunity for training in Cuba," the health minister told Your Health Your Wealth.

He said that from that perspective, Cuba's feat is heartening and that Jamaica too is on the "cusp of eliminating mother-to-child transmissions" of HIV.

"We are now doing the validation of that, so I believe that Jamaica now stands at a point where we (can) become the first in the English-speaking Caribbean to eliminate mother-to-child transmission..." Dr Ferguson said.

Officials had said that Cuba's achievement shows that an end to the AIDS epidemic is possible, and that they expect more countries to seek validation from the World Health Organization.

"Eliminating transmission of a virus is one of the greatest public health achievements possible," Dr Margaret Chan, the WHO director general, had said in a press release. "This is a major victory in our long fight against HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and an important step towards having an AIDS-free generation."

For Jamaica to be validated as having eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV, Director of the National STI/HIV Programme Dr Nicola Skyers explained that the country must be certified as having met the regional goal.

"To be certified as having eliminated vertical transmission of HIV, we need to show for the last two years that there is a less that two per cent transmission rate," she told Your Health Your Wealth.

She said that since 2013, Jamaica has recorded the less than two per cent transmission rate required.

"The certification is really due at the end of this year, so that team will come in and do the necessary validation processes and therafter certify us," she insisted. "Based on our own records, we are well on track."

In the meantime, Dr Ferguson announced at a press conference that the National HIV/STI Programme has received funding support for interventions targeting vulnerable populations, and that with the country facing challenges with the prevalence rates among these groups, there has been increased Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) coverage to the current level of over 70 per cent of those with AIDS or 60 per cent of those with advanced HIV.

"We have seen a reduction in AIDS, deaths by 43 per cent in 2010 compared to 2004 when our ART access programme began," Dr Ferguson said.

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