Fri | Jan 28, 2022

Join the fight to eliminate HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination – Patrick

Published:Tuesday | November 30, 2021 | 12:07 AMKeisha Hill/Senior Gleaner Writer
Jumoke Patrick, executive director, Jamaica Network of Serpositives.
Jumoke Patrick, executive director, Jamaica Network of Serpositives.
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THE JAMAICA Network of Seropositives (JN+), one of Jamaica’s staunchest campaigners for the upliftment of persons living with HIV/AIDS, is encouraging Jamaicans to join the fight to eliminate stigma and discrimination against persons who are afflicted with the virus.

The organisation was started in 1996 at a time when HIV was seriously impacting the lives of people living with HIV in Jamaica. According to Jumoke Patrick, the main objective when the organisation was started was to support persons in their survival as then, HIV treatment was scarce and expensive and HIV-related discrimination impacted people living with HIV.

“Once you are someone living with HIV, the organisation is an opportunity for care and support. We continue to advocate for the rights and concerns of people living with HIV in Jamaica through partnerships and opportunities that provide treatment and linkage to care, capacity building and learning opportunities,” Patrick said.

“We also offer support services for those requiring those opportunities, through support groups and dignity and empowerment development sessions, and, as well, advocacy for policies and law development and reform for justice in relation to HIV-related discrimination, and the protection and economic empowerment of people living with HIV,” he said.

JN+ currently has a membership of over 1,000 people with HIV, and is led by a board of directors that are people living with HIV. Further, and 80 percent of the staff are people living with HIV.

“People living with HIV are full and equal citizens of our society who contribute in so many ways to the economic and social development of our country. They are a part of our families, communities and the leadership of this country. HIV is not a death sentence; it is not a crime; and it is not something you purchase willingly from a shop,” Patrick said.

“Therefore, human rights, freedom of movement, love and respect, access to justice should be the right of people living with HIV in Jamaica. The appreciation and acceptance that despite health conditions such as HIV, people deserve to be valued and respected and be treated fairly,” he added.

According to Patrick, living positively and thriving with HIV are two of JN+ strategic approaches to programmatic responses and interventions for people living with HIV in Jamaica. Their work, he said, is anchored in dignity and recognises the ‘whole-person’ of anyone that comes to them for services.

“Whether accessing treatment and care, navigating risk and spaces, dealing with or disclosing to family and friends, [the] JN+ strategy is to first help the individual to figure out who they are, their purpose in life, and, ultimately, evoke a willingness to live positively by doing all that is needed for them to live a healthy and happy long life,” Patrick said.

“All of this is embedded in our partnerships with stakeholders and funders, whereby we provide holistic care through projects and programmes in HIV care and support, linkage and referrals for educational and capacity-building opportunities, psychosocial sessions, conflict and mediation, HIV discrimination redress and access to justice, peer- to-peer mentorship and support, as well as nutritional care support,” he added.

The Jamaica Network of Seropositives has been championing the cause for people living with HIV for many years and some of the changes, through their advocacy, include demanding greater involvement of these individuals in the national HIV response.

JN+ also monitors antiretroviral stock levels at pharmacies across the island to ensure constant availability of medication, and advises the Ministry of Health and Wellness if there is need to replenish.

“We have people living with HIV sitting on national technical committees, and also working in clinics across the island, to support other persons living with HIV as part of the holistic, clinical management of accessing care,” Patrick said.

Of lately, their advocacy has also been to ensure that no HIV-specific law is considered by the Government for wilful transmission of HIV, as this will target and enable a continued marginalisation of people living with HIV in Jamaica.

“We operate the Jamaica Anti-Discrimination System for HIV, which is a report and redress system for people living with HIV facing discrimination, so that they can report such cases to us for investigation and redress, which has been happening since 2005,” Patrick said.

For more information on the Jamaican Network of Seropositives, telephone 876-929-7340 or 876-839-8000, or visit their website at www.myjnplus.org. They are also visible on social media @jamplus on Instagram, @jnsero on Twitter.

keisha.hill@gleanerjm.com