In an effort to further stem the problem of HIV, Government has moved to make antiretroviral therapy universally accessible to persons who have tested positive for the sexually transmitted virus in Barbados.
Minister of Health John Boyce announced this morning during a news conference that the HIV Treat All initiative, which began in March last year and had initially targeted pregnant women before it was extended at the end of October to involve patients at the Ladymeade Reference Unit, would now be available island wide.
“Therefore, the initiative of antiretroviral therapy in Barbados is no longer dependent on the extent of progression of the HIV, but from the moment of the diagnosis,” he said.
Boyce also revealed that the Freundel Stuart administration would be increasing its HIV spending this year by a further $500,000 to over $6 million to accommodate the financial needs of the programme.
“We presented this case to the Ministry of Finance who readily realized that starting Treat All would be an investment which would reduce health care costs in Barbados in the long term,” Boyce told reporters this morning at the Ministry’s Culloden Road, St Michael office.
However, he said it was still up to the individual to accept the prescribed treatment, even though Government was seeking to achieve and sustain the UNAIDS 90:90:90 target by 2020. That requires that 90 per cent of all people living with HIV must know their status; 90 per cent of people with diagnosed HIV infection would be receiving sustained antiretroviral therapy and that 90 per cent of all people receiving treatment would be virally suppressed or controlled.
“Specifically it will maintain the low rates of HIV illness and deaths, but we want to see further acceleration of the decline in HIV transmission rates that we have been experiencing,” said Boyce, while calling on all Barbadians to assist in the efforts by practising safe sex, getting tested, accessing the available services and ending discrimination against those with the virus.
Also addressing today’s news conference, Senior Medical Officer Dr Anton Best reported that at the end of last year about 70 per cent of the 1,700 people in care at the Ladymeade Reference Unit were on antiretroviral therapy.
“So there were about 600 persons that were not on therapy. Most of those persons were not on therapy because they did not meet the criteria. All of those persons are now eligible for antiretroviral therapy,” Best added.
Up to the middle of this year, more than 18 million people worldwide were reportedly receiving antiretroviral therapy, out of the estimated 37 million people living with the virus.
Today, the PAHO/WHO representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Godfrey Xuereb expressed satisfaction, based on the level of treatment, that fewer people were dying from HIV and AIDS related illnesses globally.
However, he said it was still unacceptable that globally, over a million lives were lost to the virus last year and that over two million new infections were also reported in 2015.
More worrying, the PAHO official said, was the fact that new HIV infections were on the rise in some countries. He urged those who have started treatment to continue their therapy.
Xuereb also pointed out that one in every three people in Latin America and the Caribbean, who are living with HIV, did not know their status.
However, he said the fact that about 87 per cent of national HIV programmes in the region were being funded by governments, was strong indication of their commitment to reaching the UN’s 2020 target.
“To achieve this target we require rapid and effective implementation of the WHO/PAHO Treat All recommendations,” he said.
“Offering antiretroviral therapy as soon as HIV is diagnosed can keep people alive and healthy and reduce transmission,” he added.
Today, officials agreed that the current lack of knowledge by individuals of their HIV status, along with discrimination, remained the main barriers to treatment.
However, they said it was encouraging to see that private sector entities were also on board with the Treat All initiative.