“When I went to pick up my medical and I was told that I was HIV positive, I just could not believe it. I felt I was going to die. I cried. I screamed. I felt anger at my husband who had given it to me,” said then 23-year-old Michelle in a 2003 interview with the Jamaica Information Service (JIS).
Although a diagnosis like this may be daunting, individuals can go on to live long and fulfilling lives. Treatment prevents the HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) from damaging the immune system and progressing to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). According to the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW), an estimated 32,000 Jamaicans are living with HIV. Of this number, approximately 27,297 know their status and only about 15,000 are getting treated.
To increase awareness about status, treatment and prevention, the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) provides support through the MOHW and other partners.
HIV Self-Test Kit
The rollout of the HIV self-test kits started in 2020 with the endorsement of the National Family Planning Board (NFPB). The kit allows persons 16 years and older to test themselves for HIV in private and is sold at select pharmacies islandwide. If individuals get a positive result, they are urged to visit a health centre or private doctor to confirm and begin treatment. For individuals using a private medical facility, the Government, through public-private partnership, has made it possible for persons living with HIV to access care at a reduced cost.
Antiretroviral (ARV) Medication
All persons living with HIV (PLHIV) are able to access ARV medication at no cost once diagnosed. The drug is used to ensure that HIV patients have a decreased viral load, which makes them less likely to develop AIDS and contract other illnesses that could make them more vulnerable. Individuals can access ARVs at government health centres and other partnering bodies such as the Centre for HIV/AIDS Research and Education Services (CHARES), Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) and Health Connect Jamaica (HCJ).
Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) Programme
This programme aims to distribute medication primarily designed for HIV-negative individuals to protect them from contracting the virus. These individuals include serodiscordant couples (where one person is negative and the other positive) and persons who are negative with high-risk sexual behaviours. It can also be used to prevent transmission to an unborn child. The PrEP programme is administered by the JASL, a partner of the GOJ. According to the MOHW, persons who take PrEP drugs daily, reduce their risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90 per cent.
All treatment sites also provide social and psychological support for persons living with HIV/AIDS.
For additional information, contact:
Ministry of Health & Wellness
10-16 Grenada Way
Telephone: 876-633-8172, 876-633-7771
National Family Planning Board
5 Sylvan Avenue
Counselling Hotline: 876-968-1619
Centre for HIV/AIDS Research and Education Services (CHARES)
The University Hospital of the West Indies
Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL)
3 Hendon Drive
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF)
183 Hagley Park Road
Medical Centre Telephone: 876-313-3340/876-771-3243
Health Connect Jamaica (HCJ)
7 Barbados Avenue