Fri | Jan 28, 2022

Health Connect Jamaica expands treatment to persons living with HIV

Published:Wednesday | December 1, 2021 | 12:06 AMKeisha Hill/Senior Gleaner Writer

JAMAICANS LIVING with HIV/AIDS have been able to access clinicians, laboratories and pharmacies within the private sector with the advent of Health Connect Jamaica (HCJ), which has been mandated to expand access to, and utilisation of, high-quality HIV-specific primary health services in the private health sector.

Health Connect Jamaica (HCJ) is a special project of the Faculty of Medical Sciences at The University of the West Indies, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW), and funded by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, through the United States Agency for International Development.

According to Dr Geoffrey Barrow, director of Health Connect Jamaica, the objective of the project is to expand access to HIV treatment, care and prevention, including tailored interventions based on the epidemiological profile of HIV in Jamaica.

PRIVATE PHARMACIES

The network, he said, currently comprises private clinicians, laboratories, psychologists, and the HCJ care team. Additionally, network patients have access to MOHW – provided antiretroviral medications through MOHW partner private pharmacies.

In Jamaica particularly, where people living with HIV (PLHIV), are currently unable to afford access to HIV treatment and care in the private health sector, HCJ provides an online reservation app that allows clients to gain access to a network of specialists in the private sector. An HIV/STI risk assessment is done, and an appointment is then scheduled.

According to Dr Barrow, the project was launched during the height of the pandemic in July 2020, and the response to the project by clients, clinical partners, and the MOHW has been extremely positive.

Many clients, he said, are hesitant in accessing HIV services due to fear of their status being exposed, or having to wait for long periods in crowded public facilities. The HCJ, he said, eliminates all of that and offers a modern, appointment-based system for accessing treatment and support services.

“It could be said that all Jamaicans have access to diagnosis through a number of public, non-governmental and private facilities. However, fear of knowing their status and its disclosure, as well as fear of stigma and discrimination, have been found to prevent some persons from accessing HIV testing,” Dr Barrow said.

“There has been a steady rate of onboarding of both providers and clients. To date, 42 clinicians and six laboratories have been onboarded, and more PLHIV have been accessing HIV treatment and care through the network,” Dr Barrow said.

PREVALENCE OF HIV

Dr Barrow said, based on the MOHW’s estimates, the prevalence of HIV in Jamaica is 1.3 per cent, or approximately 32,600 persons believed to be infected. It is also estimated that approximately 84 per cent of persons infected with HIV have been diagnosed through the public health system, and approximately 40 per cent of persons infected with HIV are retained on antiretroviral therapy.

With the principal goal of Health Connect Jamaica being to expand access to affordable, high-quality HIV services in the private sector, this critical role is expected to lead to an increase in service obtained among people living with HIV. This reduce the burden on the public health sector and contribute to the HIV epidemic control in Jamaica.

Health Connect Jamaica was granted over $45 million for its first year, and secured funding for its second year that commenced in October 2020. A partnership has also been forged with the Caribbean Institute of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

The project is slated to run until September 30, 2024, with the current funding agreement spanning March 2021 to September 30, 2024. According to Dr Barrow, in terms of client base, the projections are to have 700 clients onboarded and in care by the end of September 2022, and 3,000 by the end of September 2024.

For more information on how to access the services at Health Connect Jamaica, current and prospective clients can email info@healthconnectja.com, or telephone 876-669-7349. You can also visit their website, www.healthconnectjamaica.com, and the website WhatsApp portal, or by messaging through one of their social media platforms, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

keisha.hill@gleanerjm.com