Director of health services planning and integration in the Ministry of Health, Dr Simone Spence (left) listens as senior medical officer of the National HIV/STI Programme Dr Nicola Skyers (right) makes a point at the official launch of the ‘Test and Start’ social marketing campaign at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston, yesterday. Others are Director of Health Promotion and Protection Dr Beverley Wright (second left) acting mission director of the United States Agency for International Development Sara Buchanan. (Photo: JIS)
A social marketing campaign has officially been launched by the Ministry of Health to encourage people living with the human immunodeficiency virus (PLHIV) to take their medication and to continue to do so for life.
The campaign, which has been dubbed ‘Test and Start: Get on yu meds and get on wid life’, goes further to encourage people 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, 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 at the launch at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston yesterday.
“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 continued.
Citing data from the United States-based Centres for Disease Control (CDC), Dr Spence informed that people 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 noted.
Meanwhile, acting mission director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Sara Buchanan, said the campaign will change lives.
She said that, through it, more individuals will realise that HIV is no longer a “death sentence but a manageable illness”.
Country director for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in Jamaica, Manoela Manova, is elated that Jamaica has initiated the campaign, which she indicated required a great deal of planning, resources and courage.
Jamaica has an estimated 30,000 people living with HIV or 1.7 per cent of the adult population.
The most urbanised parishes, such as Kingston and St Andrew, and St James have the highest cumulative number of reported cases of HIV.
Radio, television and poster advertisements will form part of the social-marketing campaign of ‘Test and Start’.