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Eliminating Vertically-transmitted HIV/AIDS while Improving Access to Treatment and Care for Women, Children and Adolescents in Jamaica

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Background and Methods: To celebrate Jamaica’s 50th birthday after receiving independence from Great Britain, we summarize our collaborative published research in the prevention, treatment and care of paediatric, perinatal and adolescent HIV/AIDS in Jamaica.

Results: Public access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) in Jamaica has shown that a “test and treat” strategy associated with “treatment for prevention” works for HIV-infected pregnant women by reducing their HIV-attributable morbidity and mortality and reducing mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) rates to < 2%, islandwide. These women experience significant psychosocial stress and targeted interventions are assisting them to improve their quality of life. HIV-exposed and infected children come from large families with high rates of teen pregnancies and significant financial challenges needing sustained interventions. HIV-exposed but uninfected Jamaican infants have higher rates of communityacquired infections, including lower respiratory tract infections, sepsis and gastroenteritis compared to community controls, although their growth rates are normal. In evaluation of replication capacity, viral control and clinical outcomes after vertical transmission in Jamaican mother-infant pairs, HLA-B57 was found to confer the advantage of restricted HIV replication primarily by driving and maintaining a fitness-attenuating mutation in p-24 Gag. Viral sequences from 52 MTCT Jamaican pairs were compared and 1475 sites of mother-infant amino acid divergence within Nef, Gag and Pol were identified, suggesting modest fitness cost with many CD8 mutations. HIV-infected Jamaican children are surviving into adolescence and adulthood, as a result of increased public access to ART and improved collaborative capacity in ART management. Successful transition of HIV-infected children through adolescence into adulthood requires a strong multidisciplinary team approach, including long-term ART management addressing non-adherence, drug resistance and toxicity, treatment failure and limited options for second line and salvage therapy, while attending to their sexual and reproductive health, psychosocial, educational and vocational issues and palliative care.

Conclusion: Over the past nine years, Jamaica has made excellent strides to eliminate vertically transmitted HIV/AIDS, while reducing the HIV-attributable morbidity and mortality in pregnant women and in HIV-infected children. Continued successful transition of HIV-infected children through adolescence into adulthood will require a strong multidisciplinary team approach.

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e-Published: 21 Aug, 2013
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