Thu | Feb 20, 2020

Fewer than 50% of people with HIV getting treatment

Published:Tuesday | February 11, 2020 | 12:11 AMCarlene Davis/Gleaner Writer

Despite three Jamaicans becoming infected with HIV every day, fewer than half of those diagnosed with the disease are on treatment.

Data from the National HIV/STI Programme showed that 1,165 new cases were reported in 2018, a three per cent decrease when compared to 2017.

With 32,617 people estimated to be living with HIV, while 84 per cent know their status, only 47 per are on treatment.

In keeping with the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) a 90-90-90 target set for the end of 2020, which is an indicator of progress towards ending the epidemic by 2030. At the end of January 29, 2019, Jamaica’s numbers stood at 84-53-65.

“This means that we believed that we have diagnosed the majority of the people living with the virus. The gap we now have is that we have only been able to retain on treatment 53 per cent of those people,” said Xavier Biggs, monitoring and evaluation manager for Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL).

What that means, Biggs said, is that a vast minority were not receiving treatment and were at risk of spreading the virus.

The monitoring chief said that despite stigma and discrimination continuing to be problematic to HIV management, JASL urged those diagnosed with HIV to get help now.

“‘It’s one thing to not know your status and be oblivious of that. You might possibly be infecting a new subset of people. It’s even more difficult knowing that there is a subset that do know their status ... .

“We don’t know if it is unprotected sex, but we do know that some sexual activity must be happening because new infections continue to appear,” he told The Gleaner.

The data further showed that 49 per cent of males and 14 per cent of females have multiple sex partners but only 58 per cent with multiple sex partners used condoms at last sex.

“We are not policing people’s sexual behaviour. ... We can’t make decisions for people in their relationships. We can give the encouragement and tell you what is advised and where to get help and what to do,” he said.

NEW INFECTIONS

The majority of new infections were among low-risk women at 32 per cent, followed by young people aged 15-24 at 16 per cent, men who have sex with men at 10 per cent, and prison inmates at six per cent.

Low-risk women are often in a committed relationship, whether married or common-law, and do not see themselves at risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI), said Andrea Campbell, director of health promotion and prevention at the National Family Planning Board.

“They also do not have a history of STIs. However, their partners may be putting them at risk by engaging in sexual activity, external to the relationship, without the use of a condom,” she told The Gleaner.

Campbell said that there were several factors that could lead to a disregard for safe sex practices. Citing data from the 2018 HIV/AIDS Knowledge Attitudes and Behavior Survey, reasons given were the love or trust for a partner; partner not liking using, or allergic to, condoms; or having one partner or currently married and faithful.

“It means that everyone has the responsibility to protect themselves from HIV and other STIs, and that means taking the necessary preventative measures. ... Condom use needs to be normalised by all sexually active persons, whether or not they are in a relationship they consider to be safe,” the director added.

carlene.davis@gleanerjm.com