Stigma affecting decline in HIV cases

Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton, says stigma associated with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) continues to stymie Jamaica’s efforts to achieve its 90-90-90 treatment targets that will set the country on a course to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. 

The targets set by UNAIDS, are for 90 per cent of people living with HIV to know their status; 90 per cent of all persons diagnosed to access sustained antiretroviral (ARV) therapy; and 90 per cent of all persons receiving ARV to achieve viral suppression by 2020.

Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton

Speaking at the World AIDS Day 2019 press launch in New Kingston on Thursday (Nov. 21), Dr Tufton said that as at March 2019, the country was at 84-47-62.

This means that 84 per cent of persons living with the disease had been diagnosed, 47 per cent of those diagnosed were receiving ARV therapy, and of those on treatment, 62 per cent had achieved viral suppression.

While the country has made strides in addressing HIV, Minister Tufton said that stigma and discrimination is at the heart of some of the factors, which continue to impact the process in ending the HIV epidemic.

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He noted, for example, that persons are reluctant to disclose their status to sexual partners, family and friends, therefore denying them the needed social support that can significantly enhance health outcomes.

Dr Tufton said that stigma is also associated with late presentation for HIV care.  He cited the 2017 UNAIDS report entitled ‘Confronting Discrimination’ which indicates that “people living with HIV, who perceived high HIV-related stigma were 2.4  times more likely to present late for care.”

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He said that addressing the challenges to treatment is critical to Jamaica’s efforts to achieve the 90-90-90 target.       

He is encouraging citizens to support the initiatives designed to eliminate HIV/AIDS, which he noted has “for far too long, compromised the health and wellness of so many of our people”.

Minister Tufton noted that Men who have Sex with Men (MSMs) and transgender people are among the groups most affected by HIV, with 10 per cent of all newly diagnosed cases being MSMs.