Health ministry to intensify HIV prevention and treatment efforts countrywide

The Ministry of Health, through the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS) will be upping the ante in the prevention and treatment of HIV in keeping with the UNAIDS goal of ending the disease as a public health threat by 2030.

This was disclosed on Sunday by Minister, Dr. Frank Anthony on the final day of a three- day conference held at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, ahead of World ÀIDS Day, to promote community awareness and engagement in HIV prevention and testing.

Minister of Health addresses the World ÀIDS Day Conference for Healthcare workers

Held under the theme, ‘Let Communities Lead’ the event focused on enhancing the knowledge and skills of healthcare workers for the effective initiation, referral and provision of HIV services to high-risk and key populations

Dr. Tariq Jagnarine, Programme Manager at the National Aids Programme Secretariat

Minister Anthony, while delivering feature remarks, noted that changes have to be made in the way the national programme is managed to bridge the gaps that exist in the system, to ensure that the UNAIDS target of 95-95-95 by 2030 is achieved.

“We are confident that if we amplify what we are doing and do it on scale, then we would be able to achieve many of these targets before 2030, that is why I’m hoping that we can change the way that we manage the programme, the way that we manage HIV services in Guyana,” Dr Anthony stated.

Minister of Health attends the World ÀIDS Day Conference for Healthcare workers

The minister highlighted that an integrated approach is needed to create more impact in services at various levels.

The need for increased focus to be placed on prevention strategies, through awareness campaigns, condom distribution and promotion of Pre -Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) in high-risk areas across the country, was also emphasised by the health minister. 

“We have introduced Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, first for discordant couples, and now for anybody who is at risk. Unfortunately, the uptake has been very low and if we continue at those rates then the impact that potentially Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis therapy can make, would not be realised,” Dr Anthony stated.

Minister of Health Dr. Frank Anthony attends the World ÀIDS Day Conference for Healthcare workers

The health minister also lamented that an insufficient number of persons living with HIV, are accessing medication, adding that while viral load testing was introduced in the past year, not enough patients are getting tested.

“This has to change quickly because unless we are doing viral load testing, we would not know if the treatment we are offering is suppressing the virus.

“We have invested in purchasing the equipment to be able to do viral load testing at our labs, we have spent close to half million US dollars … and if we have acquired the equipment but we are not putting it to use then there is a mismatch here, and so I hope that this too would be corrected in short order,” the health minister expressed.

Minister of Health attends the World ÀIDS Day Conference for Healthcare workers

Persons living with HIV/AIDS have also not been taking full advantage of the self -testing option put in place, according to minister Anthony.

In this regard, Programme Manager at NAPS, Dr. Tariq Jagnarine noted that “It’s estimated that in Guyana the prevalence of HIV continues at 1.45 per cent. We have an estimated 9,900 persons living in Guyana, a high number, and so we want to eliminate this as a public health threat. We have to work together to start keeping that incidence rate down.”

He stated too that 95 per cent of persons living with HIV/AIDS know their status, while 75 per cent are linked to treatment and care. Thirty per cent of persons living with HIV have recorded viral load suppression for two years.

While lauding the significant strides made by Guyana in the battle against the disease, Dr. Jagnarine pointed to the critical need to change the current status of the disease as a public health concern.