JIS News

Dr. Peter Figueroa, Chief of Epidemiology and HIV/AIDS in the Ministry of Health, has called on more sexually active Jamaicans to get tested for HIV.
He noted that the estimated 140,000 tests administered last year were not enough. “Let’s say that there are 1.2 million adults in Jamaica and one million are sexually active and you are just doing 140,000 tests, we have got to do better than that,” he said.
Dr. Figueroa, who was speaking at a press briefing held on Monday (Jan. 9) at the Courtleigh Hotel in Kingston, to give details of the visit by a high level delegation from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GTFAM), noted that with reports indicating that approximately 15,000 of the 22,000 persons estimated to be living with HIV in Jamaica were not aware of their status, it was important that sexually active persons get tested. “It is better to know than not to know,” he pointed out.
The Epidemiology Chief further pointed out, that while surveys have indicated that as many as 30 per cent of adults have had a HIV test at some point in their lifetime, these tests needed to be updated.
“What use is a test five years ago for someone who is currently sexually active? I would like us to be able to get up to hundreds of thousands of tests per year so it means we have to really scale up the logistics to manage that within the health sector but at this stage.we’re not yet impressed but we hope to be,” he stated.
He noted that while large numbers of people were willing to do the tests if they were made easily available, there was still a significant number who were fearful to do the tests as they were concerned that if the results were positive, they would be stigmatized or discriminated against.
“We continue to face a tremendous challenge with respect to stigma associated with HIV and discrimination against persons living with HIV.we have to overcome the stigma and ensure that persons who feel themselves at risk are comfortable to come forward and get tested so that they can access treatment if they need it or access prevention services to keep them safe,” the Epidemiology Chief said adding, “the more that we can reduce the stigma that’s associated with HIV, the more persons will come forward for testing and practice safe sex.”
In the meantime, he informed that current outreach work was being met with much receptivity and there were plans to strengthen and expand some existing programmes in order to reach persons who were at risk.
“We are not reaching full coverage at this point so we have got to expand and scale up some of the current programmes. We also have to continue to improve our methods of working and empower people to change their behaviour,” he said.
Dr. Figueroa also disclosed that the 2002-2006 HIV/AIDS Strategic Plan, which is being funded through the Global Fund, was slated for review to identify critical areas of need, which should be expanded or improved.
“Once we complete that process, we will prepare a new strategic plan and arising out of that we will also develop new project proposals and we are hoping to go back to the Global Fund to address those specific areas that are not being addressed in the current grant,” he informed.
The delegation from the Global Fund, which arrived in the island on January 8, consisted of Dr. Carol Jacobs, Board Chairman; Professor Richard Feacham, executive director and Dr. Wolfgang Munar, cluster leader for Latin America and the Caribbean.
At the end of January, the Global Fund will begin assessment of the progress made under the National HIV/STI Programme and by the end of March, the country should know whether it will continue to benefit from assistance from the Fund.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was created to dramatically increase resources to fight three of the world’s most devastating diseases, and to direct those resources to areas of greatest need. As a partnership involving governments, civil society, the private sector and affected communities, the Global Fund represents an innovative approach to international health financing.
The Fund has been in operation for four years and serves 130 countries through grant funding. The grants are given for five years and assessments are carried out at the end of the first two years.
Importantly, the majority of the indicators put in place by the country have to be met in order to ensure that the remaining three years of funding is given. So far, the Global Fund has made available US$7.5 million of US$23.3 million, which was approved for Jamaica’s programme.
Caribbean countries have successfully won 18 grants from the Fund inclusive of 12 for HIV/AIDS, three for tuberculosis, and three for malaria.
Jamaica has benefited significantly from the Global Fund since 2004 with the establishment of a public access treatment programme for persons living with HIV/AIDS using special anti-retroviral drugs.
Since the inception of the public access programme, over 1,500 persons living with AIDS have benefited from the special antiretroviral drugs, special diagnostic tests and CD4 counts and viral load tests.Much of the policy and advocacy work being undertaken by the National HIV/STI Control Programme as well as the National AIDS Committee is effected through the grant.

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