Health

Off target

Jamaica to miss 90-90-90 HIV/AIDS goals; commits to addressing challenges

BY ANIKA RICHARDS
Associate editor — news/health
richardsai@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, November 24, 2019

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IT is unlikely that Jamaica will meet the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) 90-90-90 target by 2020.

Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton made the admission on Thursday at the media launch of World AIDS Day being observed December 1 at the ministry's offices in Kingston, adding that the number of people becoming newly HIV-infected each year is too high.

“Still, we have some way to go on the journey to fulfilling the 90-90-90 target...” Dr Tufton said. “We have long agreed that, while we have made progress, we are not likely and will not achieve that 90-90-90 target, which is why I think recognising the challenge ahead must be a continuous effort.”

The 90-90-90 target became the new narrative on HIV treatment following a call, in December 2013, for UNAIDS to support efforts to establish new targets for HIV treatment scale-up beyond 2015. The charge is for 90 per cent of all people living with HIV to know their HIV status, 90 per cent of all people with diagnosed HIV infection to receive sustained anti-retroviral therapy, and 90 per cent of all people receiving anti-retroviral therapy to be virally suppressed all by 2020.

With the deadline just around the corner, as at the end of March this year the island was at 84 per cent of individuals living with HIV diagnosed, 47 per cent of those diagnosed on anti-retroviral treatment, and 62 per cent of those on anti-retroviral treatment had achieved viral suppression.

Also, there are approximately 32,000 people believed to be living with HIV in Jamaica. As many as 5,300 people living with the virus in the country are unaware of their status. Just last year, 1,600 people were newly HIV-infected. And, according to Dr Tufton, the current HIV epidemic in the island indicates that 10 per cent of all newly diagnosed cases are among men who have sex with men.

The current statistics, the health and wellness minister said, paint a clear picture of the challenge Jamaica is facing.

However, he urged citizens to support initiatives to rein in HIV and reaffirmed Government's commitment to playing its part to address challenges.

He pointed to the 2020-2025 National Strategic Plan for Jamaica that is being developed, highlighting some of the issues that must be addressed.

“Persons seeking medical care in the public health system need to spend too much time seeking care — from time spent waiting to see the health provider to waiting to collect their medication,” he said, adding, “sex begins at an early age, and access to condoms and contraceptives and sexual reproductive health is difficult for young people.

“Gender inequity, interpersonal violence and high-risk behaviour all continue to contribute to the spread of HIV.

“And the stigma associated with HIV remains strong and continues to act as a barrier to HIV disclosure to sexual partners, families and friends,” he said, adding that this means that, in too many instances, people are denied needed social support that can significantly enhance health outcomes.

Dr Tufton said, too, that stigma and discrimination affecting men who have sex with men and transgender people, who are among those predominantly affected by HIV, are also counted among the challenges.

The health and wellness minister assured the audience at the launch that things are being done to address the challenges and to improve the numbers in respect of the 90-90-90 target and the 2030 ambition of ending the AIDS epidemic.

He said this is being done through the development of the National Strategic Plan, which envisages a Jamaica “free of new HIV infections and AIDS, and in which all people are happy, healthy and productive”.

“We also have ongoing sustained return-to-care activities comprised of phone calls and home visits to locate persons living with HIV and return them to care,” the minister said, as statistics presented at the launch indicate that as many as 14,000 people living with HIV were diagnosed with the disease, linked to care and then lost to care.

He added: “Health care workers in the treatment sites are also tasked with developing specific management plans based on the needs of the patient.”

This work, Dr Tufton said, is complemented by a series of mass media campaigns aimed at addressing the gaps in HIV prevention, treatment and care.

In the meantime, Dr Tufton said he is pleased with this year's theme for World AIDS Day 'Communities Make the Difference'.

The minister acknowledged that Jamaica's National HIV Response Programme has had some successes, from significantly reducing the mother-to-child transmission of HIV and its prevalence among female sex workers, to the introduction of a public access programme for anti-retroviral treatment. The successes, he said, has been due to the engagement and support of communities, whether as lobbyists or advocates informing policy design and programme execution, or doers, serving people living with or otherwise affected by HIV/AIDS.

“The truth is, now more than ever, we require the support of communities to ensure the effective implementation of our interventions but also long-term sustainability,” Dr Tufton said.


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