June 9, 2009
Jamaica has made significant strides in the treatment and care of people with HIV/AIDS in the last five years, according to Dr. Kevin Harvey, senior medical officer in the Ministry of Health's HIV/Sexually Transmitted Infection Control Program.
The face of the disease has shifted from one of illness, weight loss and frailty, said Harvey. "We are saying you cannot tell by looking; anybody sitting beside you or working with you can be HIV-infected and you don't know it," he told a recent Gleaner editor's forum.
"We find that most people are willing to sit beside, hold hands, talk to, and even take care of somebody who is HIV-infected, particularly family members," Harvey said. "This has been a significant shift we are seeing now."
Harvey added: "We still have a challenge where persons refuse or have difficulties buying food or eating from somebody who they know to be HIV-infected; but they are more willing to allow their children to go to school with HIV-infected individuals and work alongside them."
Ministry estimates show that of the 27,000 Jamaicans believed to be living with HIV, 18,000 are unaware they are infected, said Harvey. Learning one's status and starting treatment, if infected, are essential, he said. Treatment is free in the public sector.
"Now, we have people who are diagnosed with AIDS up to five years, and some people who have been on, before our major program, up to 14 years of antiretroviral drugs and are living healthy, happy lives," Harvey noted.