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The Ministry of Health is continuing to scale up its response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Jamaica, through expansion of its prevention programmes targeting high risk groups and the general population.
According to information in a Ministry Paper on the National HIV/AIDS programme, which was tabled in the House of Representatives on Tuesday (December 6), a study conducted with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) indicates that expenditure on HIV prevention needs to be increased at least ten fold as the coverage of high risk persons is inadequate.
The document notes that with the difficulties in reaching many of the persons who are most at risk due to stigma, it is clear that the programme needs to recruit and train more staff at different levels to conduct outreach prevention work.
As such, the Priorities for the Local AIDS Control Efforts (PLACE) method is now being expanded islandwide. This sees outreach workers and peer educators under the close supervision of trained field co-ordinators and behaviour change communication staff visiting sites where persons go to meet new sex partners. Through this method, direct contact is being made with more commercial sex workers, exotic dancers, men who have sex with men and other at risk persons.
The Ministry Paper points out that the health programme for prisoners is being upgraded with the Correctional Services taking responsibility with the Ministry’s support to improve the overall health of inmates. Workshops have been held to sensitize wardens in addition to varying educational activities for inmates.
In addition, a special survey is being conducted at the Tower Street Correctional Centre with a number of inmates being interviewed to better understand their needs and the best means of addressing them. Support has also been provided to improve the medical facilities. The aim is to establish a comprehensive health programme that includes HIV and other health tests on intake and exit from the facilities, as two thirds of these inmates return to the general population.
Meanwhile, a campaign in support of abstinence among young people is being developed as well as a special anti-stigma campaign built around profiling a number of persons living with HIV/AIDS. Currently, a programme to combat HIV/AIDS stigma in the workplace is being aired in addition to a campaign promoting condom use among young adults.
The Ministry Paper says that in order to ensure sustainability of the HIV/AIDS programme in Jamaica, a group of consultants have been contacted to conduct a human resource audit and make recommendations.
So far the National HIV/AIDS programme has implemented several programmes, policies and partnerships in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. These include, among others: the establishment of a public access treatment programme with anti-retroviral (URV) drugs in September 2004; partnerships with the National Health Fund and Health Corporation Limited to ensure adequate and sustained supply of ARV drugs; the development of a National Policy for HIV/AIDS, a policy for the management of HIV/AIDS in schools and other draft sectoral policies.
The document says the Health Ministry is continuing its lobbying to keep drug prices at affordable levels.Jamaica has played a leadership role in lobbying pharmaceutical manufacturing companies in order to get reduced prices for ARV drugs in the Caribbean, the Ministry Paper notes.