Wed | Feb 22, 2017

Jamaica lagging behind in HIV treatment - Country needs to triple number of persons taking antiretroviral drugs to meet WHO guidelines

Published:Wednesday | December 7, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Dr. Kevin Harvey, Caribbean Regional Director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation poses alongside the AHF's display to promote 'Test and Treat'

Jamaica needs to increase the number of persons known to be infected with HIV and AIDS who are receiving antiretroviral medication from approximately 9,000 to just over 30,000 more than triple the current number in order to meet the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines of 'Test and Treat'.

Caribbean Regional Director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), Dr Kevin Harvey, said this is similar to what obtains in other parts of the world, as the 2015 recommendations of the WHO make every person living with HIV now immediately eligible for treatment.

Dr Harvey also pointed out that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation was taking steps to put in place interventions to assist the Government of Jamaica to reach this and other HIV-related goals. He shared that the AHF is the largest non-governmental service organisation globally providing care and support to persons living with and affected by HIV.

The foundation currently provides compassionate care to over 600,000 persons living with HIV across 37 countries and 15 states within the United States.

"Our current focus includes getting 1,000,000 HIV-infected persons on ARV treatment by 2020. Linkage and retention in care and the provision of high quality care leading to sustained viral suppression and ultimately reduced transmission," Dr Harvey said.

Dr Harvey was speaking recently at the continuing education seminar for pharmacists and other health professionals held at The Jamaica Pegasus Hotel under the theme 'Optimizing Pharmacy Practice The New Era'. His presentation focused on the 'Epidemiology and Management of HIV in the Caribbean Overview of the Current State of the Epidemic'.

The WHO's 90:90:90 target requires that at least 90 per cent of the population should know their HIV status, 90 per cent of those known to be infected should be on antiretroviral medication, and 90 per cent of those on medication should be virally suppressed.

Jamaica has a significant way to go before achieving these goals. For example, 30 per cent of persons living with HIV in Jamaica still do not know they are positive, only a third of those who are positive are on treatment, and 70 per cent of those on treatment are still not virally suppressed and can therefore continue to spread the disease.

 

Risk reduction

 

Noting that there is a 95 per cent reduction in the risk of transmission from those whose viral loads are undetectable, he said this is one of the most powerful prevention tools identified since the start of the epidemic.

"When we talk about viral suppression and HIV, we mean that at that stage the ability of the virus to replicate is reduced to the extent that it is undetectable through sustained and appropriate antiretroviral treatment. Medication can virally suppress the infection and reduce the likelihood of transmission by 95 per cent. This, along with education, empowerment and social marketing interventions is how we will be able to significantly reduce the spread of HIV and end the epidemic by 2030," Dr Harvey maintained.

As part of its plans to assist the Caribbean in enhancing its HIV response, AHF will be establishing its Caribbean Regional Office in Jamaica to manage and coordinate the collaborative work to be done with countries.

AHF currently has existing programmes in Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic and intends to expand its presence within these countries as well as take on new countries such as Trinidad and Tobago.

AHF aims to assist HIV treatment programmes in the region to modernise the interventions currently being used and use strategies to reach young people where they are. The Foundation will also be focusing on increasing testing among the population and training of health-care workers.