Amid rising HIV cases, Iloilo to reactivate AIDS councils
ILOILO CITY, Philippines - A crucial step in bringing Iloilo closer to achieving the “Getting to Zero” target on HIV/AIDS is the reactivation of the Local AIDS Councils (LAC) in every local government unit in the province.
This call was issued by the Iloilo Provincial Health Office, during this year’s World AIDS Day celebration on December 1. They recognized the need to intervene to curb the growing cases of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the Province and City of Iloilo.
The cumulative data from the Sexually Transmitted Infectious Diseases (STI) of the Department of Health (DOH-VI) covering the period 1984 to July 2015 revealed that from the 964 total registered cases, 170 cases are recorded for Iloilo Province and 254 cases for Iloilo City. This makes it a top issue among Highly Urbanized Cities in the region, as far as HIV/AIDS is concerned. (WATCH: Rappler Talk: Curbing the HIV epidemic in PH)
The deaths attributed to HIV likewise increased. From January to July 2015, 33 deaths were registered, compared to 32 deaths for the same period last year.
The number of deaths might appear stable, but it does not indicate anything positive, considering that HIV-related deaths have doubled in the span of two years. In 2013, there were only 15 deaths recorded, in spite of the fact that antiretroviral therapy has been widely made available by the health agency nationwide through its treatment hubs and satellite clinics.
Charity Yanson-Perea, coordinator of the DOH Region VI office for STI diseases, stressed that the number of cases may be higher than what is currently recorded by the regional agency, because there are undiagnosed individuals and are therefore not registered or recorded.
The health record on HIV-AIDS prompted the Iloilo Provincial Government to call for the reactivation of the Local AIDS Council.
Why reactivate the AIDS councils
An active Local AIDS Council is important in the campaign to prevent the rise of HIV/AIDS, said Ruth Elgario of the Iloilo Provincial Health Office. The LAC is a multi-sectoral structure within a local government unit (LGU) which ensures the active involvement of the LGU on HIV/AIDS.
The LAC was established in every LGU as mandated by Republic Act 8504, or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998. It is also institutionalized by Memorandum Circular 99-233 dated December 9, 1999, issued by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).
According to the law, LAC is headed by the chief executive, and co-chaired by the committee chairman on health of the City or Municipal Council. The STI focal person serves as its secretary.
The law also mandates that the composition of the LAC must include the city or municipal health officer, social welfare officer, and representatives from concerned national government agencies, organizations of persons living with HIV (PLHIV), business sector or academe.
The establishment of LAC at the LGU level ensures a collaborative effort from different stakeholders in crafting programs and interventions, including education for sustained public awareness, and services offered by government and other sectors in society for the prevention and control of the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Moreover, the LAC also serves as an effective advocacy group that can help develop relevant policies to either enhance support on national government initiatives at the local level, or ensure needed support services like behavioral surveillance and standardized serological testing and counseling are in place.
However, upon monitoring, majority of these councils are no longer active at present as observed by the Iloilo Provincial Health Office. The same concern has been aired by numerous civil society organizations who initiated activities last December 1 and revisited targets under “Getting to Zero," a 4-year goal set on HIV/AIDS.
Is getting to zero possible?
In 2011, the theme “GETTING TO ZERO: Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS-related Deaths” was launched to rally behind individuals, organizations, support groups, civil society and governments worldwide to step up campaign efforts from 2011-2015, in order to bring cases and issues related to HIV/AIDS down to zero.
According to the Women Empowerment Network of Iloilo, the "Getting to Zero" goal on HIV/AIDS is attainable, but there has to be a conscious effort to sustain program implementation by both the government and civil society.
The Iloilo Chapter of the Freedom from Debt Coalition-Women’s Committee (FDC-WC) agreed on the move to reactivate the LAC, especially that the increasing statistics on HIV/AIDS cases demonstrates a trend that goes in an opposite direction.
It has been observed that even efforts on public education on HIV/AIDS has gradually diminished in recent years, perhaps because of lack of funding support, said Lorlene Andon of FDC-WC.
This is why the Iloilo government's call was well-received and supported by health advocates and civil society members under the Iloilo Coalition of NGO’s and PO’s (ICON), which also highlighted the HIV/AIDS issue in the recently concluded NGO-PO Week in Iloilo.
Iloilo province is anticipating positive reception on the call among LGUs as it awaits the approval of the DOH-Center for Health Development Region-VI.
Once an approval from the DOH-VI is issued, the public can expect the implementation of a series of workshops on LAC and reorientation of STI coordinators in Iloilo, said Provincial Health Officer Patricia Grace Trabado.
The workshop will offer a venue to identify the gaps in the sustainability of LAC, and the corresponding strategies to address them, Trabado added.
Trabado also encouraged individuals who believe they are at risk of HIV to subject themselves to testing and avail of the services provided by the government.
HIV can be transmitted from one person to another through blood transfusion, injecting drug use, body organ donation, needle pricks, breastfeeding, and unprotected sex.
As of today, there are no drugs that has been developed for the cure of HIV, but there are anti-retroviral drugs readily available and accessible that can reduce mortality and morbidity and can help improve the quality of life of many PLHIVs. - Rappler.com
Ted Aldwin Ong is Rappler's lead mover in Iloilo City.
Jezza Nepumoceno is involved in various socio-civic organizations in Iloilo.
HIV/AIDS is a problem in many communities – both rural and urban - across the Philippines. Responding to our communities' concern about the issue, Rappler’s MovePH is launching a campaign to promote awareness on the issue. Follow our stories through the hashtags #StayNegatHIVe and#LivePositive.