The UWI and MOHW signs MOU to govern the operations of Health Connect Jamaica

L-R) Permanent Secretary, The MOHW, Mr Dunstan Bryan; The Hon Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, State Minister in the MOHW; Professor Dale Webber, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Principal of The UWI Mona Campus; Dr. Geoffrey Barrow, Principal Investigator and Director of the HCJ; Mr Jason Fraser, Country Director, USAID President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR); and Dr Tomlin Paul, Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences and chairman of the Ceremony – all pictured at the Signing Ceremony hosted at The UWI Mona Campus on Wednesday, January 27, 2021.

The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, this morning, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) that will govern the operation of Health Connect Jamaica (HCJ), a network that has a mandate to expand access and utilization of high-quality HIV-specific primary health services in the private health sector.

HCJ is funded by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and their implementing partner FHI360 as a special project of the Faculty of Medical Sciences (FMS), at The UWI, Mona. It expands the access and utilization of high-quality HIV-specific primary health services in the private health sector, filling the gap in quantity and quality that currently exists in the national HIV response. Particularly, for people living with HIV (PLHIV) in Jamaica who are currently unable to afford access to HIV treatment and care in the private health sector.

Speaking at the Signing Ceremony, Professor Dale Webber, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Principal of The UWI Mona Campus said that this partnership exemplifies the alignment of the UWI with the needs of our society. HCJ provides well-needed services for this vulnerable group and The UWI is a strong supporter of cutting edge research needed to make a difference in the lives of people living with HIV. We are pleased that back in July 2020 our impressive research capacity was expanded through this Public-Private Partnership (PPP) which will further contribute to growth and development in the region, specifically in the area of HIV treatment.”

Addressing the gathering was State Minister in the MOHW, Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn who endorsed the initiative on behalf of the MOHW. She stated that “The MOU will see both entities pooling efforts and resources to increase efficiency and to improve the service delivery to people living with HIV. The alliance and consistent HIV prevention will strengthen care and treatment services as Jamaica strives towards epidemic control.”

The minister also thanked the USAID who through the PEPFAR and The UWI for their technical and financial support for this partnership that will support the government’s vision of universal access.

Also addressing the Ceremony, Mr Jason Fraser, Country Director, USAID President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) said “Despite the Corona Virus, gains made are being sustained with progress toward the acceleration of HIV epidemic control in Jamaica. However, the infrastructural and human resource constraints will require alternative health care delivery models to address the healthcare needs of the population. The current partnership between the Ministry of Health and Wellness and The UWI provides an opportunity to address these concerns in a manner that eases the burden on public facilities while providing affordable and accessible care to people living with HIV in Jamaica.”

In his remarks, Mr Fraser also highlighted the fact that Health Connect Jamaica is COVID-19-ready, offering client-friendly, online, and socially distanced safe options through an online reservation application that allows prospective clients to engage the network for HIV risk assessments to be done and service to be delivered.

HCJ uses a public-private-partnership (PPP) model with the MOHW to scale up HIV treatment care and support services towards achieving internationally supported targets- 95% knowing their diagnosis, 95% accessing HIV medication, and 95% achieving viral suppression, required to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. It uses features of a Preferred Provider Organization to structure the network of participating healthcare providers, namely clinicians and mental health workers, laboratories, and pharmacies. The coordination of these services is performed by the HCJ Coordinating Unit, which is housed within the Dean’s Office at the FMS.

A study conducted in 2019 by Dr. Geoffrey Barrow, Principal Investigator and Director of the HCJ, as well as Lecturer in FMS at the UWI, showed that by 2020, the capacity to provide HIV services will have to almost double to reach epidemic control by 2030.

This expansion of capacity requires an increase in the number of access points for clients to receive medical interventions for HIV treatment and care. Furthermore, quality improvement requires an increase in the effectiveness of these interventions to achieve and maintain viral suppression.

Speaking at the ceremony, Dr Barrow highlighted the importance of equity in health care. He said “Health equity is an important component in the work that I do, we have always tried to maintain the fact that health is a human right and this project speaks to that focus whereby all members of the community should be able to have the right to access health care in a fashion that they see fit.

The project, he added, “is really focused on information technology, we have online reservation applications…we have a lot of online data systems that we share with the Ministry of Health. We believe that IT is going to form a really important component of health care delivery in the future. Another important component of this project is health care financing…the project is now at a stage where we are testing a very novel way of financing health care.”

In his closing remarks, Prof. Webber said he looked forward to reporting back to the people of Jamaica on the success of this partnership.

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