Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton, says the COVID-19 global pandemic has presented myriad challenges to the HIV/AIDS response on an international scale.
Speaking in the House of Representatives today (December 1), he noted that the Government of Jamaica’s response to HIV has continued to cater to the needs of vulnerable and key populations and persons living with HIV.
Jamaica today joined with the rest of the world in observing World AIDS Day 2020 under the theme ‘Global Solidarity through our Shared Responsibility’
“The support of the global community and the commitment of our local stakeholders has enabled our national programme to continue to offer services at all levels. We are extremely grateful for the support of our partners here in Jamaica and around the world,” Dr. Tufton said.
He informed that the number of persons becoming newly HIV infected each year is too high, adding that there were some 700 new cases diagnosed in Jamaica for 2019.
“As many as 4,500 or 14 per cent of persons living with HIV in Jamaica are unaware of their status. 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,” he said.
The Minister said that during this pandemic, the National HIV Programme has continued to offer services, including the development of a response team with partners and civil society organisations to ensure that the supply chain is maintained (drugs and services), prevention activities were implemented in a safe and respectful way to all populations, and service delivery was maintained within the country for persons living with HIV.
In addition, there was 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 maintained.
“From 2018, the Ministry mandated the dispensing of multi-months of antiretrovirals. With the onset of COVID-19, there was disruption of global supply chains, from sourcing of base products to manufacturing and logistics in air freight. This was compounded with the lockdown of India, the major manufacturer of ARVs worldwide,” Dr. Tufton said.
He added that despite this threat, Jamaica, through monitoring and proactive interventions, has been able to maintain an uninterrupted supply of ARVs to persons living with HIV (PLHIV) for the past three years.
Meanwhile, 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 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 is able to achieve viral suppression and live his or her best life,” Dr. Tufton said.