'More innovative strategies needed to end AIDS in Jamaica'
With Jamaica recording just over 2,000 newly diagnosed or reported HIV cases in 2016, the country director for the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) is adamant that more needs to be done if the island is going to meet its targets to end AIDS as a public-health threat by 2030.
According to Manoela Manova, UNAIDS country director for Jamaica, while Jamaica did very well last year with 88 per cent of persons estimated to be living with HIV knowing their status, the other areas in the treatment cascade have lagged behind.
"According to 2017 treatment cascade data, Jamaica has 43 per cent of the diagnosed people living with HIV on treatment, and only 54 per cent of people on treatment are virally suppressed," said Manova.
"Viral suppression is very low in Jamaica, like 20 per cent below when compared to other countries in the Caribbean, below Haiti and [the] Dominica Republic and others."
AGGRESSIVE 'TEST AND TREAT'
When a person living with HIV reaches viral suppression stage, the amount of the virus in their blood is very low, and this reduces the possibility of them passing it on to others.
"To end AIDS in Jamaica, 'test and treat' should be aggressively scaled up, and innovative strategies such as pre-exposure prophylaxis, self-testing and point-of-care testing introduced," said Manova.
She charged that less than a quarter of adolescents and young people living with HIV in Jamaica are on antiretroviral medication and that more effort must be made to ensure that all children living with HIV are on life-saving treatment with psychosocial support available to children born with HIV as they transition into adolescence.
"Jamaica has a high adolescent pregnancy rate, and, by the age of 20 years, at least 40 per cent of young women have had at least one child. Targeted strategies on how to reach young people out of school settings are critical," she said.
"Much more needs to be done by the Government to address the vulnerabilities that put young people at risk of STIs, HIV, and gender-based violence," declared Manova as she urged all Jamaicans to help provide a supportive legal and societal environment for keeping the nation's young people, healthy, educated, engaged, happy, and successful.