Wed | Jul 24, 2019

New mobile HIV testing unit to significantly increase coverage

Published:Saturday | December 15, 2018 | 12:45 AM
Minister of Health, Dr Christopher Tufton (centre), receives the keys to a mobile Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) testing unit from United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Country Representative, Jason Fraser (left), during a handover ceremony at the Bustamante Hospital for Children, St. Andrew on Thursday. Looking on is Regional Director for the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA), Maureen Golding.

A mobile testing unit, valued at over $12 million, which has been handed over to the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA), will enable health personnel to go into communities to conduct human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) tests.

The unit was donated by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the United States Presidents’ Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) programme, and brings to five, the total number of mobile testing units within the Ministry of Health.

The bus is equipped with countertops, a sink and a screened seating area to accommodate consultation sessions. It is retrofitted with an inverter unit to power a refrigerator.

At a handover ceremony held at the Bustamante Hospital for Children on Thursday, Health Minister, Christopher Tufton, expressed gratitude for the donation.

He said the mobile units have enhanced the capacity of health personnel to move across the country and into communities, effectively taking the testing mechanism to the people, instead of having persons go into the health facilities.

UPTAKE IN HIV TESTING

“The introduction of the buses has led to a significant increase in the uptake of HIV testing. The first retrofitted buses were introduced in 2010 and since that time we have seen up to 18,000 tests being conducted on the mobile units annually. We anticipate that with the addition of this unit we will see even more persons taking the opportunity to get tested and, by extension, any appropriate treatment or public education beyond that,” said the minister.

Dr. Tufton noted that encouraging more Jamaicans to know their status through testing is a critical tool in the management and treatment of HIV.

“Last year, we tested 963,969 persons and this year, we hope to double it and, hopefully, this bus will help us to do so,” said Dr. Dutris Bourne, regional Technical Director for SERHA.

According to USAID Country Representative, Jason Fraser, estimates and case-based surveillance indicate that:

- There are about 34,000 Jamaicans living with HIV. However, approximately 22 per cent of those persons do not know their status.

- The majority of the cases are found in St. James, Kingston and St Andrew and St Catherine.

- The total represents 576 females and 621 males, with the highest number being between the ages of 20 and 59.

- Of the 1,197 persons diagnosed with HIV in 2017, 61 per cent of all cases were in SERHA’s four parishes of St. Catherine, Kingston, St. Andrew and St. Thomas. SERHA is the largest health region in Jamaica.

- The initiative is part of the health ministry’s National Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Sexually Transmitted Infection/Tuberculosis (HIV/STI/TB) programme.