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JIS News

HIV/AIDS has become a generalised epidemic in Jamaica that affects the health and well-being of large numbers of people from all social strata and occupational groups.
In response to this reality, the Government of Jamaica (GoJ) is gradually implementing the guidelines of a National HIV/AIDS Policy to help mitigate the socio-economic and health impacts of the disease on the society.
A multi-sectoral approach has been taken in this fight against the rampaging disease with commitments from the government and civil society leadership not only to help mitigate the socio-economic impacts of the disease, but also to improve the quality of life for Persons Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHA).
The other objectives of the policy which was formulated and launched earlier this year include, outlining the roles of social institutions and promoting the involvement of all society in the national response to HIV/AIDS; affirming the rights and responsibilities of PLWHA, of those interacting with them, of people vulnerable to HIV infection and of health care providers; providing a framework for assistance and cooperation from international, regional and national development partners; and delineating the mechanisms for effective implementation and monitoring of the policy.
Minister of Health, John Junor in his response to the policy noted that it was one of the priority action points stated in the country’s HIV/AIDS/STI Plan for 2002-2006. “The policy is not an end in itself and is designed for the active involvement of all stakeholders,” he explained.
Director of the National HIV/STD Prevention and Control Programme, in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Yitades Gibre, informed JIS News that since the launch of the policy, the Ministry had carried out a number of forums across the island to get public feedback on the policy. “We’ve carried out some five forums to get feedback from the people and since the policy was tabled in Parliament, we have been looking to implement different aspects of the policy step by step,” he explained.
The policy also supports the spirit and intent of the June 2001 United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS and will be guided by the principles of the International Labour Organization (ILO) code of practice on HIV/AIDS and the work world.
Listed among the ten key ILO principles are: strong political leadership and commitment at all levels for an effective response to HIV/AIDS; Equal access by all persons to prevention knowledge, skills and services, treatment, care and support services on the basis of their real or perceived HIV status; the promotion and protection of human rights; non- screening for purposes of exclusion from employment or work processes; healthy work environment; and confidentiality wherein job applicants are not asked to disclose their HIV related personal information and access to personal data relating to a worker’s HIV status should be bound by the rules of confidentiality consistent with the ILO’S (1997)code of practice on the protection of workers’ personal data.
A key objective of the policy is the prevention of new HIV infections. Dr. Gebre told JIS that the Ministry has been working to implement this aspect of the policy.
Identified within the policy is the need to intensify prevention among those at risk including most vulnerable populations such as PLWHA, commercial sex workers and gay men.
The policy and legislative framework will also enable the promotion of prevention programmes developed for and with adolescents and young people to delay sexual initiation to abstain from sexual activity and to increase condom use among those who opt to remain sexually active. It will encourage the promotion of abstinence and secondary virginity as a viable option while recommending consistent condom use for the sexually active.
The National HIV/STI Control Programme headquartered in the Ministry has the responsibility to coordinate the national response, provide the leadership and technical guidance, and address the mobilization of adequate local and international resources for an effective response to the epidemic.
“This policy has created the necessary environment in the country to address HIV/AIDS, we haven’t reached the critical mass and so we will have to scale up the programme 10 fold,” Dr. Gebre noted Monitoring of the policy will be crucial to assess the impact of the national response as well as provide recommendations for future policies, strategies and interventions.
In this respect the National HIV/AIDS Policy will be reviewed every five years, a process that could take place at the same time as the review of the strategic Plan of Action, and utilizing similar indicators defined by the plan. The goal and strategies will be reviewed to ensure relevance to the HIV/AIDS situation.
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) causes Acquired Immune Deficiency (AIDS), and only affects humans. Over 40 million people live globally with HIV/AIDS, with half million estimated to be living with the disease in the Caribbean. An estimated 22,000 people are living with HIV in Jamaica.