#StayNegatHIVe: HIV/AIDS still on the rise in Western Visayas

#StayNegatHIVe: HIV/AIDS still on the rise in Western Visayas
Among the 682 total newly reported cases in the Philippines, 31 cases have been attributed to Western Visayas, which accounts 5% of the total population

ILOILO CITY, Philippines – Every 24 hours, a person is diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in Western Visayas, based on the July 2015 data from the National HIV/AIDS and STI Surveillance and Strategic Information Unit, and the Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit-Western Visayas.

Among the 682 total newly reported cases in the Philippines, 31 cases have been attributed to Western Visayas, which accounts for 5% of the total population – 26 of which, after testing, were asymptomatic, and 5 have already developed into Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

The cumulative data also reflected the pulsing trend from January to July this year, which totalled to 179 asymptomatic cases and 21 AIDS cases.

“The rise and fall can be attributed to the awareness campaigns and the testing initiatives we have been pushing for in the region since May,” said Charro Love Perea, a clinic nurse of the Western Visayas Medical Center HIV/AIDS Core Team.

Among the new cases, 28 are males and 3 are females, whereas 19 cases are categorized within the 25-34 age group and 7 to the 15-24 age group.

“We are quite alarmed with the rate of the spread among the youth as the cases get younger and younger. So we are pushing to strengthen our HIV advocacy among the youth in the region,” said Roilo Vincent Laguna, information officer for the Commission on Population in Region 6.

Males affected

Based on the cumulative data from 1986 to July 2015, around 91% of the total population were male, while only 9% were female. Men who have sex with men (MSM) – including homosexual and bisexual contact – was revealed as the leading mode of transmission. This is followed by heterosexual contact, then sharing of needles.  

“MSM’s are at a higher risk because of their sexual behaviors along with those who pay for sex and get paid for sex (freelance sex workers) so we have been trying to reach out to this high-risk groups and encourage them to take the test,” said Rodolfo Chin Jr, registered nurse and HIV/ STI Surveillance Assistant for the Department of Health (DOH) in Region 6.

All 6 provinces, including two highly urbanized cities, have reported cases.

According to the cumulative data from 1984 to July 2015, out of the 964 total registered cases, Iloilo City leads with a total of 254 cases, followed by Bacolod City and Negros Occidental, both with 183 cases.

Iloilo Province recorded 170 cases, Capiz with 68, Aklan with 55, Antique with 34, and Guimaras with 17.

“It’s always expected that the bulk of cases will be in HUC’s due to the availability of testing and the fact that most campaigns are held within these cities,” Chin added. “Each local government unit (LGU) has their own designated Local Aids Councils, however, it’s a sad reality that only some would actually include HIV awareness in their priority.”

Expected to increase

The percentage of increase in the number of reported reported cases has dropped in the past two years, yet it is projected that the rate would start to climb as the year ends. Why? Because of the activities in line with the World Aids Day celebration in December.

“The rise of the cases in the region could also be seen a positive outcome of the many projects we have in place. It’s better because the sooner we determine their status, the sooner we could help them out,” Chin emphasized. “The data also helps in aligning our initiatives and projects with the trends of the HIV spread.” 

All in all, there have been 33 HIV-related deaths from January to July 2015 alone, higher compared to the 32 deaths in the previous year, and 15 in 2013. This is despite the availability of Antiretroviral Therapy, which is administered for free across all DOH-designated treatment hubs and satellite clinics nationwide.

“Sometimes it’s also their attitude. As much as we try our best to make sure they adhere to their prescribed treatment and encourage them to live a healthy lifestyle, in the end, the choice is still in their hands,” said *George, President of United Western Visayas, a support group for people living with HIV in Iloilo City.

“Most people living with HIV would go through depression. It helps if they have people to support them but sometimes because of the misconceptions about HIV and the negative stigma, they are forced to face it alone,” George continued. “The hardest part is to change their perception and make them realize that it’s not the end.”

As of date, there are two treatment hubs in the region: Western Visayas Medical Center in Iloilo City and Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Hospital in Bacolod.

These two are supplemented by 16 hospitals with assigned HIV and AIDS Core Team (HACT) staff, 18 social hygiene clinics, 63 local Aids councils, and several support groups for people living with HIV.

“Support is really important,  support not only from people living with HIV but also from the people around them,” said *Jake, administrator of Jake RN, a Facebook page that reaches out to people at high-risk of getting HIV through online counseling.

“I took it as a personal advocacy, since I found out that I was positive, to promote HIV education not only to those at high risk but to everyone who has an open mind to learn about it,” Jake added. “My online presence makes it easier for them to have somebody to talk to.”  – Rappler.com

*Jake and George are not their real names. Their names have been changed for privacy reasons.

Russel Jude Mendez Patina is a 23-year-old Rappler Mover from Iloilo City. He writes about life, style and anything that comes in between for Cream dela Creme Magazine, Iloilo’s premiere lifestyle magazine. He hopes to quit smoking by 30. 

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 #StayNegatHIVe hashtag.

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