Mar 12, 2019 News
Last year, the number of people living with HIV in Guyana was 8,369. Of these 5,557, inclusive of children, were on treatment.
This is according to information released by the Ministry of Public Health’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer [DCMO], Dr. Karen Campbell.
She said that the estimated HIV prevalence in 2017 was 1.7 percent up from 1.4 percent in 2014. This apparent increase in HIV prevalence, Dr. Campbell noted, was not due to an increase in the rates of HIV infection but rather to persons infected with HIV living longer due to treatment with Highly Active Anti Retroviral Therapy [HAART].
But according to Programme Manager of the National AIDS Programme Secretariat [NAPS], Dr. Rhonda Moore, Guyana has seen a steady decrease in new infections since 2016.
This, she said, can be attributed to new initiatives such as ‘Treat All’, pregnant women who test positive during pregnancy receiving HAART to prevent their unborn infants from becoming infected, the establishment of a “loss to follow up” programme and to the extended hours of clinic at the National Care and Treatment Centre.
The ‘Loss to Follow Up’ initiative was revamped in 2017 with support from the Centre of Disease Control. The programme tracks patients who missed clinic appointments from 2002 to 2016.
The ‘Treat All’ initiative on the other hand started officially in May 2018. Under this initiative patients start treatment as early as five days after enrolment at a treatment site.
Prior to ‘Treat All’ patients were not placed on anti-retroviral treatment until their immune system had started to decline. With the ‘Treat All’ initiative, persons who test positive are started on treatment after being counselled and deemed ready.
Once a person living with HIV adheres to the treatment they can suppress the virus from multiplying. Keeping the viral load low reduces the risk of spreading HIV through unprotected sex.
According to Dr. Campbell, as part of the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission policy of the Public Health Ministry, all pregnant women are required to have an HIV test during the course of their pregnancy.
“Any woman found to be HIV infected is placed on treatment to protect her unborn child from becoming infected and to preserve her immune system,” said Dr. Campbell who also disclosed that “male partners of pregnant women are also tested so they too can be placed on treatment, if positive.”
Under the Prevention of Mother to Child Initiative, pregnant women are also required to be tested for sexually transmitted infections and once placed on HAART during pregnancy, a woman stays on treatment for the rest of her life.
Added to this, Social workers from the Ministry are tasked with calling and visiting patients who default to encourage them to return for treatment.
According to information released by the Ministry, 80 percent of the defaulters targeted successfully returned. It was revealed, too, that the National Care and Treatment Centre in Region Four initiated extended clinic hours in June of last year in order to facilitate attendance from working men and women.
The extended clinic hours are on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays are from 16:30 to 20:30 hours. “This welcomed initiative has seen an additional 356 persons accessing care and treatment at the Centre,” Dr. Campbell shared.
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