Amid talks of financial cutbacks to international funding of Jamaica's fight against HIV/AIDS, National HIV programme director, Dr Kevin Harvey, has called for Jamaicans to adopt a unified approach to tackling the challenges created by the infection.
Harvey made the appeal during the annual World AIDS Day proclamatory church service held at Andrews Memorial Seventh-day Adventist temple in St Andrew on the weekend.
World AIDS Day, which is observed each year on December 1, is being held under the theme 'Universal Access and Human Rights'.
"By combining our resources and competencies, we can have even greater success. We continue to call on organisations to join the fight, particularly in the environment of dwindling resources," he said, while highlighting the roles faith-based organisations can play in helping to tackle the virus.
Harvey's comments come at a time when private sector groups and other entities have been conducting intense discussions on the likely impact on productivity of expected cuts to funding from agencies such as the Global Fund.
He said, "Particularly, we call on faith-based organisations to encourage and facilitate a supportive environment for persons living with HIV/AIDS so that we can all get on with life."
Harvey noted that while the data reveal an estimated 27,000 people in Jamaica living with the virus, the country has seen an 18 per cent decline in reported cases between 2006 and 2009. He added that since the country started its public access programme for antiretroviral drugs in 2004, the results have been favourable.
"The country has also achieved a 43 per cent reduction in AIDS-related deaths when comparing 2009 and 2004."
According to Harvey, approximately 50 per cent of persons living with HIV and in need of treatment are receiving same. More than 90 per cent of HIV-positive infants receive antiretroviral medication, and more than 85 per cent of HIV-infected pregnant women received medication.
"Today, the life expectancy of persons living with HIV who are adherent to their antiretroviral medication is equal to that of those who are HIV-negative," he said.
In addition, Harvey said the abolition of the user-fee policy at government-run hospitals has provided an opportunity for HIV/AIDS, infected person to have greater access to services and drugs.
He, however, noted that, while all these gains are commendable, the stigma and discrimination attached to certain lifestyle practices are hampering gains made.
"We are still lagging behind in improving access to treatment and prevention programmes for vulnerable groups such as commercial sex workers, and men who have sex with men," Harvey said.
"Let's work together to uphold the rights of individuals living with HIV and realise the millennium development goal to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS by 2015."
According to United Nations estimates, there are 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS, including 2.1 million children. Last year alone, some 2.7 million people became infected with the virus while two million people died from AIDS.
Peace and tolerance