By Trudy Simpson, Staff Reporter
Dr. Yitades Gebre, senior medical officer in the Health Ministry's HIV/AIDS Control Programme (left), at yesterday's press briefing at the Ministry, King Street, Kingston, which was called to release the latest HIV/AIDS statistics and outline plans for 'World AIDS Day'. With him is Lovette Byfield, the Ministry's behaviour change and communication programme manager. - Norman Grindley /Staff Photographer
MORE THAN $100 million has been spent on HIV/AIDS intervention programmes locally since January this year but new data show the rate of HIV/AIDS is increasing in high-risk age groups.
Certain kinds of high-risk behaviour also continued over the last year.
Dr. Yitades Gebre, senior medical officer in the Ministry's HIV/AIDS Control Programme, told reporters at a press briefing at the Ministry of Health yesterday that HIV infection is steadily increasing, especially among women. He said, too, that there are still large percentages of people who are having unprotected sex with casual or regular partners as well as having sex with prostitutes.
The age group 20 to 29 is especially affected, with HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) being the leading cause of death for women in that age group.
"Despite the efforts of the national programme, the risk behaviour of individuals having sexual relationships and sexual liaisons with prostitutes continue to rise," he said.
In addition, many infected persons, among them men who have sex with men, are still not reporting the illness because they fear discrimination and harm. There could be as many as 500 new cases which have gone unreported in this year alone, Dr. Gebre said. That would almost equal the 511 new AIDS cases reported in the first half of 2002.
Figures for the second quarter of the 2002 Jamaica AIDS Report show that there was a marginal increase in the number of cases and that women are fast catching up to men, accounting for 46 per cent of all reported cases. This is up 10 per cent from last year.
There were 40 new cases regarding children with AIDS. All parishes had increases, but Kingston, St. Andrew, St. James, St. Mary and St. Catherine reported the highest number of incidences.
Meanwhile, Jamaicans should have access to several
confidential counselling and HIV/AIDS testing programmes, which should be implemented in facilities islandwide by 2005, according to Dr. Gebre.
Speaking at yesterday's press briefing, Dr. Gebre said that various activities, some of which are being piloted in parishes, should begin sometime next year 2003. Others, like Mother-to-Child transmission reduction (MTC) programme, are being expanded. The increasingly successful MTC programme is aimed at reducing the number of HIV positive infants born to mothers who have HIV.
"By 2003, we will be able to cover about 80 per cent of ante-natal sites. That means, in all parishes, pregnant women will be able to access, with their partner if necessary, voluntary HIV/AIDS counselling and testing," Dr. Gebre told reporters.
"By 2005, all sites will be covered and then everybody could come in and have HIV/AIDS testing in the public sector. Private sector, you can go anytime and have access to HIV testing," he added.
The press briefing was called to release the latest HIV/AIDS statistics and outline plans for World AIDS Day, to be celebrated December 1, and accompanying activities such as a panel discussion to be held on Wednesday. This is organised by Journalists Against HIV/AIDS to be aired December 1. There will also be the launch of video fest on November 29, where several short films will be shown. The theme is "Iron Will: Iron Underpants."
About 26 per cent of persons have been tested for HIV/AIDS, which, Dr. Gebre said, is almost comparable to developed countries.
"But it is not just about people being tested, once knowing the test results, to change behaviour, to change attitude and also not be discriminated against because of their HIV status is the most important thing," he said.
The reduction of stigma and discrimination will be the focus of activities leading up to and to mark World AIDS Day on December 1, 2002.
An estimated 20,000 people live with HIV/AIDS, one-third of whom do not know their HIV status. "There is a gap between 11,000 being reported and 20,000 being estimated. The gap is about 8,000 or 9,000 and out of this eight or 9,000, nobody can reach about one third of them. This means that they could be anywhere," Dr. Gebre said.
"We are missing about 20 to 30 per cent. Our surveillance is about 75 to 80 per cent. Such persons, we may not be able to reach them. They have to come to us through certain services. For those people to be reached, we need a voluntary, confidential, counselling and testing programme."