JIS News

As World AIDS Day (December 1), draws near, statistics from the United Nations are showing that 39.5 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS.
With this in mind, Jamaica is taking no chances with the epidemic, and has stepped up its drive to contain the disease with several initiatives, says Policy Advocacy Officer in the Ministry of Health, Faith Hamer.
She tells JIS News that much has been achieved because of interventions since 1986.
“We have slowed the HIV prevalence rate [at 1.5 per cent, and have] increased access to anti-retrovirals for people living with AIDS; averted over 100,000 new infections; and have seen a dramatic decline in sexually transmitted infections, such as syphilis and congenital syphilis,” she points out.
She informs JIS News that this degree of containment was possible, as Jamaica had witnessed a 10-fold increase in condom access in both traditional and non traditional sources, through expanding the stakeholder group of implementing agencies monitoring and evaluating component of HIV/AIDS programmes, and expanding behaviour change communication interventions.
Miss Hamer says the Ministry has undertaken cutting edge research known as Priority for Local AIDS Control Efforts (PLACE), to identify sites where people meet new sexual partners, and have increased the involvement of persons living with HIV and AIDS in all these interventions.
The Policy Advocacy Officer says the Ministry is still aware of some high risk behaviour among some groups and in control of the issues.
“Our Knowledge Attitude and Practice Surveys of 1996, 2000, and 2004 showed a behavioural plateau where people are knowingly exposing themselves to risk. Some 24 per cent of men and 34 per cent of women reported that they do not use a condom with a non regular partner,” she informs.
Miss Hamer says this proportion has not changed much, even now. She further tells JIS News that social factors, such as poverty and unemployment, are leading persons in the age group 15 to 49 into transactional relationships where sex is exchanged for money or gifts.
“Since HIV is transmitted mainly during sex, anyone having sex without a condom is at risk for getting HIV, even if they know how it is transmitted and how to prevent it. Even though HIV is a part of the Health and Family Life Education curriculum, the teaching of it varies from teacher to teacher. Therefore, the Ministry of Education and Youth (part of the national response), need to speed up its efforts to revise the curriculum to ensure that sex education, including abstinence and condom use skills, is passed on to students in an appropriate way,” she emphasizes.
She says the work being done in the public sector and private sector to integrate HIV/AIDS principles into the workforce, has met resistance, primarily in relation to the principle of non HIV screening. “Allowing persons to do a test, through mandatory means, does not help your position any further because an HIV test and the result is a snapshot of the time when you took the test,” she says.
Miss Hamer stresses that much more needs to be done in this area. Although legislative amendments will be necessary to support the national response, public education using behaviour change communication strategies is the main tool, Miss Hamer points out.
The initiatives noted by Miss Hamer augment several undertaken by the Government this year.
For instance, a US$100,000 one-year Programme for Deaf Women in Jamaica, which commenced in September, has sensitised more than 1,000 women on the possible impact of HIV/AIDS on their community, and have empowered them with self-sustaining skills.
The project is implemented by the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities (JCPD), which is an agency under the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.
In relation to access to anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs, the Government now provides ARVs for all persons afflicted with the disease, but the Minister of Health, Horace Dalley, says he is concerned that not all affected persons are taking advantage of the free drugs.
“Some people are afraid to go for it. I am saying to you if you are out there living with HIV/AIDS, don’t stay at home and die, the drug is available to you,” he stresses.
He suggests that persons, who might be hesitant in going for treatment, can “go to Jamaica AIDS Support and find someone to talk to and they will direct them in confidence”.
Up to May of this year, some 2,180 persons were enrolled in the ARV treatment programme, which surpassed the Health Ministry’s target of 2,000 persons.
Meanwhile, Director of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Office in the Caribbean, Dr. Kwame Boafo, says the agency would sustain its HIV/AIDS initiative in Jamaica, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Youth.
Dr. Boafo says that the project, which primarily seeks to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS through education, is funded by Jamaica, the Government of Japan, along with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Bank and the Global Fund.