Thu | Feb 9, 2023

‘We have a lot of work to do’

Activists urge Gov’t to double down on commitment to tackle HIV/AIDS

Published:Thursday | December 1, 2022 | 12:06 AMChristopher Serju/Senior Gleaner Writer
The ASHE Company performing during the Jamaica Network of Seropositives’ (JN+) World AIDS Day breakfast forum at the AC Hotel in Kingston on Wednesday.

The Government has been criticised for not doing more to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic and address the hostile environment in which many infected Jamaicans are forced to survive.

Jumoke Patrick, chairman of the Jamaica Civil Society Forum on HIV and AIDS, and executive director of the Jamaica Network of Seropositives (JN+), made the claim as he addressed Wednesday's World AIDS Day Breakfast Forum at the AC Hotel in St Andrew.

“When you have 30,000 people estimated to be living with HIV and only 40 per cent of those are retaining care, we have nuff work to do. When 53 per cent of people living with HIV feel guilty, dirty and ashamed because of their HIV status, we have a lot of work to do. When we have gay men and other men who have sex with men having transmission rates at 32 per cent, we have a lot of work to do. When we have transgender women with an HIV-transmission rate of 53 per cent, we have a lot of work to do,” Patrick said at the event which was organised by JN+ under the theme 'Equalize'.

Patrick rapped legislators for their unwillingness to enact laws that would help to end stigma and discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere, noting that the Occupational Safety and Health Bill “has been lingering for umpteen years and not a soul can say something sensible about it”.

“When we have a strategic plan lingering and in limbo for two years, ... we have a lot of work to do, and that is why we have to equalise,” he said to thunderous applause.

Health and Wellness State Minister Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, who spoke before Patrick, said the Government was in the process of re-evaluating the customer service process at public health facilities to improve public confidence, adding that the ministry remains committed to delivering high-quality, people-centred services for people living with HIV.

“Through our network of treatment sites, we remain dedicated to improving accessibility for diagnosis and also the monitoring of HIV at the point of care,” she said.

Cuthbert-Flynn acknowledged that stigma and discrimination remain the main barriers to equitable access to prevention, treatment, and care services, but noted that Jamaica was one of the first countries to endorse the Global Partnership for Action to Eliminate All Forms of HIV-Related Stigma and Discrimination.

“Our Jamaican partnership builds on tremendous efforts led by you – the civil society groups, international and development partners and other stakeholders – [and] provides us with a platform to design, implement and also to monitor the progress of our efforts to end stigma and discrimination in all settings,” the state minister said.

The Global Partnership was created in 2018, bringing together governments, civil society and the United Nations to end HIV-related stigma and discrimination, recognising that this was critical to the world achieving the goal of ending HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

UNAIDS consultant Jaevion Nelson, who delivered remarks on behalf of the multi-country director Dr Richard Amenyah, also noted that much more work needs to be done locally.

“Let us continue to call for the Government to take action to put in place policies and laws that protect and promote their rights and dignity and facilitate the ending of inequalities. We urgently need anti-discrimination legislation and an independent human rights institute to help secure justice for people living with HIV, whose rights have been abused,” he said.

“Jamaicans are contracting HIV or dying of AIDS today because of inequalities. Stigma and discrimination are very pervasive in our societies, regardless of whether in the household, health setting, workplaces, or even in places of worship. We need to break the silence, address gender-based violence, and address the inequalities negatively impacting vulnerable and marginalised populations,” Nelson added.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com