KINGSTON — United States Global AIDS Co-ordinator, Ambassador Eric Goosby, has commended the Government of Jamaica for the priority it has placed on combatingthe spread of HIV/AIDS in the country, through its national programme.
"In Jamaica, I know the Ministry of Health has spearheaded an aggressive response through the National HIV/(STI) Programme," the Ambassador said as he addressed the launching ceremony of the Jamaica Business Council on HIV/AIDS (JaBCHA) National Foundation on July 6 at the Wyndham Kingston hotel.
He pointed out that despite being “hard hit” by the global economic crisis in the last three years, “this government has shown its commitment by maintaining the annual allocation to its HIV programmes and I know the Minister (of Health, Hon. Rudyard Spencer) has been critical and key in sustaining and holding that ground."
“The Minister himself has been a true leader, both here in Jamaica as well as internationally, in pushing and focusing on prevention interventions that target high-risk populations and making the argument for collaboration that brings in international partners and communities,” he stated.
He noted however, that despite the gains made, more needs to be done to address the HIV situation in Jamaica. He cited statistics from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), which showed that Jamaica has a 1.7 per cent HIV prevalence rate, meaning that about 32,000 persons are living with HIV.
“The rates are dramatically higher in marginalised populations that experience higher levels of stigma and discrimination – men who have sex with men making up almost 32 per cent prevalence; and commercial sex workers almost five per cent. Fifty per cent of these people are unaware of their HIV status,” Ambassador Goosby pointed out.
He noted that throughout the Caribbean, populations most at-risk are afraid to seek services at public venues for fear of harassment, which means these groups do not know their status and continue to transmit unwillingly and often unknowingly.
“Just like everywhere else, unchecked infections in these groups spread directly or eventually into the general population at lower risk. Thus, stigma and discrimination against these groups directly increases the threat to all of us,” he said.
Ambassador Goosby advised that in order to protect the public health of the entire country, it was essential that interventions reach every segment of society in a non-discriminatory way.
He said under the United States’ President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) several American government agencies have been working to support Jamaica’s efforts to reduce the transmission of HIV, with a focus on most at risk populations and other vulnerable groups.
Launched in 2003, PEPFAR is a worldwide programme, which seeks to reduce the incidence and limit the spread of HIV/AIDS, while mitigating its impact on those who have contracted the disease. Since its inception, the programme has facilitated treatment of more than two million HIV-infected persons, provided care for over 10 million and prevented seven million new infections.
JaBCHA’s National Foundation is a private sector initiative established with support from the US Government, which will assist national efforts to increase access to health care and garner financial resources to sustain the response to HIV/AIDS.
Its main objective is to raise funds to provide universal access to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and provide for treatment, care and support available for the persons living with the virus.
By ALECIA SMITH, JIS Reporter