South Cotabato

South Cotabato sees increasing HIV infections mostly among young people

Rommel Rebollido

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South Cotabato sees increasing HIV infections mostly among young people
South Cotabato has 855 confirmed HIV cases, show data from the health department

GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – South Cotabato is seeing an increase in Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infections, mostly contracted by young adults and the youth population.

This has prompted authorities to call for the serious involvement of parents in addressing the growing problems.

One of those infected, a minor, contracted the virus through sexual contact with another minor.

The minor, who resided with his grandparents, said they were at a gathering, drinking, and became carried away.

Koronadal City, the provincial capital, logged the highest number of HIV-infected people in South Cotabato.

In the province, those getting infected are getting younger, according to Janet Demonteverde, the head of the Koronadal City Population Office.

The provincial capitol’s data showed that most of the HIV-infected individuals in the province fall within the age range of 15 to 34 years old. There are 11 senior citizens on the list.

John Arlo Codilla, the infectious disease program coordinator of the Integrated Provincial Health Office (IPHO), informed the Hinun-anon sa Kapitolyo media forum that there has been a notable increase in the number of people with HIV in South Cotabato.

Codilla said most of the cases are found in highly populated places, like Koronadal City with 338 cases and Polomolok with 59 cases.

According to records from the Department of Health’s (DOH) Epidemiology Bureau, South Cotabato has 855 confirmed HIV infections.

“The number does not include newly screened, newly diagnosed, and cases tested outside South Cotabato,” he said.

But Codilla said the number increased because the government intensified efforts to identify and locate those infected with HIV in the province.

The ongoing efforts to locate those who contracted HIV are rigorous, with teams from the South Cotabato health office’s infectious disease cluster checking the communities on a daily basis.

Codilla said the teams receive help from non-governmental organizations and other private groups, such as Pilipinas Shell Foundation Incorporated, which provide free counseling and testing services in areas identified as most at risk.

People considered at risk or vulnerable to HIV include men who engage in same-sex relationships, partners of HIV-infected individuals, commercial sex workers, and heterosexuals who have been exposed to multiple sexual partners.

Schools and other locations with significant youth populations in South Cotabato are included in the counseling and testing programs.

Among the interventions being implemented to address the increasing cases are the promotion of safe sex, behavior change for adolescents, and parental guidance.

Meanwhile, the province is also witnessing an increase in cases of teenage pregnancies, with Koronadal having the highest number.

“Youngsters as young as 12 years old are getting pregnant,” said Demonteverde of the local population office.

Not all cases of teen pregnancies were unintended though. 

In Lake Sebu, for instance, 13-year-old Tboli Monica (not her real name) had to quit school after she was impregnated by an elderly man – her husband.

She said she was married off by her parents for economic reasons. 

“It was a hard life in our place in the mountains. It’s better for me to marry so I can have a good life,” she said.

In Tboli culture, a groom pays a dowry to the parents of the bride in cash or in the form of work animals like horses or cattle.

Other cases of teen pregnancy were a result of sexual aggression.

During the first quarter of 2023, the City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO) in Koronadal reported approximately 10 cases of rape, mostly committed by minors.

The figure represents a significant increase compared to the only four rape incidents recorded in the entire year of 2022.

CSWDO head Jennifer Magbanua said that out of the 10 rape cases, seven were committed by minors younger than 15 years old, while the remaining three cases involved suspects who are older.

According to the CSWDO report, some of these incidents were gang rapes.

Since the seven suspects were minors, they were placed under community-based rehabilitation in the city, managed by the Barangay Councils for the Protection of Children (BCPC).

In 2022, Demonteverde said they recorded over 400 teenage pregnancies in Koronadal alone, with the youngest being a 12-year-old. –

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