JIS News

Chief of Epidemiology and AIDS in the Ministry of Health and Environment, Dr. Peter Figueroa, has said that although the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) continues to rise, the death rate from these infections, particularly HIV/AIDS, has been declining.
This he says is due to the success of the Ministry’s national AIDS/STI programme.
Dr. Figueroa, who was speaking at the International Conference on Adult Education at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel yesterday (March 17), said it is estimated that there are 25,000 to 27,000 people living with HIV in Jamaica and that, as many as 12,000 are not aware that they are living with the virus.
He urged all sexually active persons to get an HIV/AIDS test done in order to adequately tackle this epidemic.
“We need to expand testing. “Everyone needs to get tested once you are sexually active and we’re trying to encourage that,” he said.
“We estimated adult HIV prevalence of 1.5 per cent.for the last 10 years the prevalence of HIV among pregnant women in public clinics, has remained stable at 1.5 per cent. It means that we have been able to put some hold on the spread, but it is not yet adequately going down but what is encouraging there, is that the death rate has come down significantly and that is due to our anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment programme,” Dr. Figueroa explained.
He said however, that the prevalence among those who are most at risk, like homosexuals, is very high and is estimated at 25 per cent. Similarly among female sex workers, surveys show that the rates are significantly high.
“If the rates are high in these vulnerable populations, then there’s always the potential for increased rates being transmitted to the population as a whole,” he said.
Meanwhile, he pointed out that more males than females are affected by HIV/AIDS and that the primary reason is because of the risky behaviour of males.
“When we interview persons living with AIDS in Jamaica, what we find is that 80 per cent of them report multiple sex partners. Nearly 50 per cent of them report having some other sexually transmitted infection at some time. A quarter of them have participated in commercial sex – either buying sex or selling sex..What is also instructive is that nearly 20 per cent of persons reported with AIDS in Jamaica have none of these risk factors and these persons, mainly women, are at risk for AIDS or HIV infection through the sexual behaviour of their partner,” Dr. Figueroa informed.
In highlighting the successes of the AIDS/STI programme in Jamaica, which he described as being ‘comprehensive and multifaceted,’ Dr. Figueroa said the mother to child transmission has been reduced due to the effectiveness of the treatment programme.
“We now have 88 per cent women who are pregnant, who are HIV positive now getting the anti-retroviral medication. What this means is that we have reduced the transmission rate from mother to child from 25 per cent that is (from) one in four children now down to about one in 20 children,” he said.
Dr. Figueroa said that despite having nearly 4,000 people on treatment and putting 100 new persons on treatment nearly every month, the response to the HIV programme and the treatment programme has to be strengthened.
“If we are going to turn around this epidemic, we’re going to have to increase our investment in prevention ten-fold. This is not easy. It requires a lot of resources and it’s not easy to conduct prevention programmes of high quality on a wide scale,” he stressed.
Stating that 15 million condoms need to be distributed each year in order to adequately address the problem, Dr. Figueroa revealed that young people are the most sexually active, but are least able to access the condoms because they are afraid to approach people in their communities, to go to the pharmacies, or they may not have money to purchase the condoms, therefore, they do not use them.
He said there are many behavioural and social factors driving the HIV/AIDS epidemic such as poverty and sexual practices. “It is not a straightforward issue and this is what makes it so complicated,” he added.
“If we’re really going to make a difference.then the society is going to have to face up to the social vulnerabilities that many people face and put them at risk of HIV and we also have to face up to having a more sophisticated discussion about the kind of policies that we need,” Dr. Figueroa stressed.

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