Wed | Aug 15, 2018

Ja curbing HIV spread, says Harvey

Published:Monday | December 1, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Alessandro Boyd, Gleaner Writer

AS PEOPLE around the world commemorate the 26th World AIDS Day today, Dr Kevin Harvey, acting permanent secretary at the Ministry of Health, said Jamaica is on the right track as the nation seeks to curb the virus' spread.

"Every year, the world celebrates World AIDS Day, and this one is particularly important because, over the last decade, we have made significant strides in managing and controlling the epidemic. We have seen significant improvements in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission," he said.

"We have put most of the persons with AIDS on treatment with antiretroviral drugs. We have seen where treatment has moved from several tablets a day to one tablet per day, and we see now that a person diagnosed with HIV has the same life expectancy as someone who is not affected if they can receive adequate medication and the necessary prevention intervention," Harvey, a former executive director of the National HIV/STI Programme, added.

He, however, stated that some demographics were still affected by discrimination.

"We still remain challenged by the fact that stigma and discrimination, particularly among the vulnerable groups such as commercial sex workers, men who have sex with men, and others, remain very high in this country, and this is what is the remaining challenge in fully overcoming the HIV epidemic," Harvey said.

"We need to work together to resolve some of these issues, to move towards tolerance and respecting each other's rights in order to have a full mitigation of the HIV epidemic," he told The Gleaner.

Power of Social Change

The World Health Organisation said that today's commemoration of World AIDS Day was an opportunity to harness the power of social change.

"Ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 is possible, but only by closing the gap between people who have access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services and people who are being left behind. Closing the gap means empowering and enabling all people, everywhere, to access the services they need," the WHO said.

Harvey, meanwhile, said Jamaica has made tremendous stride in fighting the illness.

"We have now seen where the new generation is being born HIV-free. If we are not able to close the gap to provide the necessary intervention, then we would have really lost the battle to deliver a HIV-free group to be exposed to HIV through sexual transmission later on," he said.

"We have been able to control and contain HIV. The goal now is really to end the transmission of HIV, which is certainly possible if we can diagnose 90 per cent of those who are infected, to ensure that 90 per cent of those who are infected are receiving the necessary treatment and messages, and ensuring that 90 per cent of those who are on antiretroviral treatment are retained and on treatment. That is the formula now that is being pursued to end aids," Harvey continued.

The 2014 PAHO/WHO (World Health Organisation) report 'Antiretroviral Treatment in the Spotlight: A Public Health Analysis in Latin America and the Caribbean' revealed that the number of people receiving antiretroviral treatment in Latin America and the Caribbean increased from an estimated 210,000 in 2003 to 795,000 in 2013, representing 56 per cent of those who need treatment and 44 per cent of all people with HIV.

There were 35 million people living with HIV in 2013 and 12.9 million people globally were receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART). In 2013, less than one in four children living with HIV had access to ART, compared to one in three adults.