The campaign, which has been dubbed, ‘Test and Start: Get on yu meds and get on wid life’, is also aimed at getting persons to get tested for HIV in order to know their status and, if confirmed positive, to commence antiretroviral treatment.
Director of Health Services Planning and Integration in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Simone Spence, said the test and start recommendation and, by extension, the campaign are based on current scientific evidence from clinical trials and observational studies.
“It demonstrates that initiating antiretroviral therapy (ART) earlier results in better clinical outcomes in persons living with HIV, versus delay in treatment,” she said.
“Treatment as a method of prevention is another benefit of these new guidelines. As more PLHIVs are virally suppressed, the risk of transmission… decreases. Testing is, therefore, a critical tool in the management and treatment of this disease,” she added.
Citing data from the United States-based Centres for Disease Control (CDC), Dr. Spence said that persons who use ART can be kept healthy for many years.
“Antiretroviral medications lower HIV in the blood, reduces HIV-related illnesses and reduces the spread of HIV to others,” she said.
The Acting Mission Director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Sara Buchanan, said the campaign would change lives and that through it, more persons will realise that HIV is no longer a “death sentence but a manageable illness”.
She lauded the Health Ministry for initiating the campaign and informed that as part of its push, new staff was hired and the capacity assessment of regional testing sites was undertaken, among other things.
Country Director for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in Jamaica, Manoela Manova, said she was elated that Jamaica has initiated the campaign, which, she indicated, required a great deal of planning, resources and courage.
“This proves that Jamaica is a strong regional leader, and Jamaica is one of the first countries to have initiated the 90-90- 90 (treatment target),” she said.
This means that by 2020, 90 per cent of all persons living with HIV will know their HIV status; 90 per cent of all persons diagnosed with HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy; and 90 per cent of all persons receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.
The executive director of the Jamaican Network of Seropositives, Ricky Pascoe, said it is a campaign being welcomed by his organisation, which will be a “big boost for them”.
He noted that there is need to improve treatment sites, address the shortage of ART and reduce the stigma and discrimination that exists with HIV.
Jamaica has an estimated 30,000 persons living with HIV or 1. 7 per cent of the adult population.
- Countries: Jamaica