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The success of Jamaica's national HIV/AIDS response programme in reducing the number of deaths among infected persons has been lauded by Health Minister, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, and the Pan American Organization (PAHO).

Speaking at the Ministry of Health’s Annual HIV/STI Review Forum at the Hilton Rose Hall Resort and Spa in Montego Bay, recently, Dr. Ferguson pointed to a 50 per cent decline in the number of HIV/AIDS-related deaths, between 2004 and 2011. An estimated 1.7 per cent of the population, aged 15 to 49 years, is deemed to be living with the disease in Jamaica,

He attributed this to improvements in healthcare delivery, inclusive of increased availability of and access to Antiretroviral Drugs (ARVs), used in the treatment of infected persons; and improved surveillance programmes and testing processes.

“Three hundred and thirty three (333) AIDS deaths were reported in 2010, compared to 665 in 2004. This represents a 50% decrease in AIDS deaths since the inception of universal access to ARVs in 2004 (a)… significant improvement over this period,” he informed.

The Health Minister informed that procurement of a significant supply of ARVs was facilitated, primarily through the provision of a US$23 million grant from the Global Fund.

Dr. Ferguson noted that improved healthcare in Jamaica, consistent with international standards, has contributed to more persons with HIV/AIDS, being able to live normal lifestyles. This, he contended, augurs well for the country’s prospects in securing continued assistance, particularly from international donor agencies, to further strengthen the sector’s capacity to effectively tackle the disease. 

Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS Programme is financed mainly by the Government of Jamaica, the Global Fund, UNAIDS, and the World Bank. Significant expenditures have been made on activities geared towards prevention, with approximately $676 million being allocated in this regard in 2009/10, and $625 million in 2010/11.

Encouraged by the progress in Jamaica’s fight against HIV/AIDS, Minister Ferguson assured that the country will seek to fulfill new targets, in this regard, by 2015. These, he outlined, include: further reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS through sexual transmission, reducing the risk of persons engaging in substance abuse being infected, particularly where the sharing of needles occurs; reducing the number of tuberculosis-related deaths among persons living with HIV/AIDS; reducing the number new cases of the disease among children; and increasing the number of persons accessing treatment.

“I feel very confident that we can see further improvements in our HIV and AIDS targets within the next three years. Jamaica’s HIV programme has been lauded as among the most successful in the Latin American and Caribbean Region,” the Minister said.

Dr. Ferguson said, against the background of tight fiscal constraints, Jamaica continues to lobby international donor agencies for additional funding support to maintain the national programme.

“We have to secure the gains that we have made. I am confident that our global partners will support our efforts at reducing the HIV prevalence among our population, thereby putting our country firmly along the path of development,” he underscored.

A recent World Bank study on Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS Programme, conducted in collaboration with the Government of Jamaica and UNAIDS, recommended that priority areas be identified for long term and sustainable funding.

“Assess the allocative efficiency between prevention and treatment, and between specific programmes within prevention, to guide targeted efforts. Effective prevention, in the short term, will result in lower spending on treatment in the long term,” the World Bank study concluded.

Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Advisor on HIV/STI Surveillance, Dr. Paul Edwards, who also addressed the HIV/STI Review Forum, in commending the effectiveness of Jamaica’s programme, as well, suggested that the country share its “best practices” with the rest of the Caribbean.

“You have made tremendous achievements in 2011; a lot of very good work (is) being done here in Jamaica. There are a lot of best practices that need to be documented and shared across the Caribbean. I encourage you to do that,” Dr. Edwards said.

In his recent message, focusing on the region’s AIDS prevention campaign, United Nation Secretary General Special Envoy for HIV in the Caribbean, Dr. Edward Greene, pointed to the prospect of “an AIDS-free generation” in the region that was “unimaginable” a generation ago.

“Yet, we are cautioned by the reality that biomedical and behavioural tools still have to be brought to scale and that scarce resources and the persistence of stigma and discrimination are impediments to this dream,’ he stated.

As such, Dr. Greene stressed the need for a redoubling of efforts to strengthen the health system’s response, advance treatment to prevent HIV/AIDS, and eliminate mother to child transmission, among other key focus areas.

“These require creative and collective leadership, shared responsibility in public/private partnerships, and the engagement of all stakeholders,” Dr. Greene underscored.