- Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Kevin Harvey, says Jamaica has made strides in reducing discrimination in relation to HIV/AIDs.
- Dr. Harvey said “the level of stigma and discrimination that was (in Jamaica) 10 years ago is not where it is today.”
- He noted, however, that more needs to be done to combat HIV and AIDS-related discrimination.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Kevin Harvey, says Jamaica has made strides in reducing discrimination in relation to HIV/AIDs.
Dr. Harvey, who was speaking at a ceremony to mark the end of the United States (US) Government-funded Health Policy Project (HPP) Jamaica, at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston on Tuesday, July 14, said “the level of stigma and discrimination that was (in Jamaica) 10 years ago is not where it is today.”
He noted, however, that more needs to be done to combat HIV and AIDS-related discrimination.
“We have to look at some of the evidence and best practices from other countries because we have seen some changes in other countries, we have seen improvements… accepting attitudes in other places, and we are seeing where in some of the first world countries, the United States, among others, have really taken on certain approaches which have led to more equality in terms of treatment and care,” he said.
The Government has long recognised that stigma and discrimination are major barriers to prevention services, treatment, as well as care and support of people living with HIV/AIDS.
As such, the Administration has embarked on sensitisation programmes and has been working to strengthen its health care system to ensure access to quality services for all Jamaicans.
Dr. Harvey noted that the country has benefitted tremendously in its fight to combat the prevalence of HIV/AIDS through interventions such as the HPP.
The five-year project, which was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), involved a partnership with the Jamaican Government, academic institutions, and civil society to promote equity, inclusivity and human rights through addressing HIV-related stigma and discrimination, gender inequality and gender-based violence.
It aimed to improve health outcomes by strengthening the efficiency, effectiveness, and equity of health systems with a focus on family planning and reproductive health, HIV, and maternal health.
Building the capacity of leadership at the community, district and national levels to address stigma and discrimination to combat HIV/AIDS was one of the key achievements of HPP Jamaica.
“Certainly, they have done some innovative work, they have helped us with the new integrated national strategy, which was an amazing thing for us to move from a single, stand-alone HIV response, to an integrated national HIV/STI Sexual Health policy and strategic plan, which they have now developed,” Dr. Harvey said.
He noted that the HPP has assisted the process to integrate service delivery through the creation of the National Family Planning Board’s Sexual Health Agency.
The project was also successful in building social cohesion among people living with HIV and key population leaders; and enhancing the coordination of policies and programming across sectors, including increasing the participation of civil society in policy dialogue.
It also increased the availability and use of data to inform policies and programmes for sexual and reproductive health.
United States Ambassador to Jamaica, His Excellency Luis G. Moreno, noted that despite the project coming to a close, Jamaica must remain resolute in its continued fight against stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV/AIDS.
“We, individually and collectively, must continue to fight against stigma and discrimination. We must continue to affirm the rights and dignity of all people living with HIV and those communities most affected by HIV,” he urged.
He also pointed to the need for the strengthening of the country’s capacity to advocate for stigma-free prevention and care services and quality treatment programmes for persons living with the disease.
He said that in order to achieve this, more formal linkages must be developed between public health leaders and civil society.
“We must continue to work for all stakeholders to understand how policies, regulations and process can be improved to support and access HIV treatment and care,” he said.
The Caribbean region has the second highest HIV prevalence in the world, with Jamaica having the highest prevalence among English-speaking Caribbean nations.
The Ministry of Health reports an estimated 1.8 per cent of adults, ages 15 to 49, are living with HIV. This means there is an estimated 32,000 Jamaicans living with HIV.