By John Noel E. Herrera
Cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in Iloilo province continue to increase as 29 new cases were reported in January 2023 alone.
Data from Iloilo Provincial Health Office (PHO) indicated that the 29 newly reported cases were all males, with Pavia town having the highest number of cases with four, followed by Oton with three cases, Santa Barbara with two cases, and towns of Pototan, Janiuay, Barotac Nuevo, Dumangas, Lambunao, Leganes, Calinog, San Miguel, Guimbal, San Dionisio, Estancia, Sara, Dingle, Anilao, Balasan, New Lucena, Tubungan, Alimodian, Lemery, and Batad with one case respectively.
The PHO also admitted that HIV cases in the province have been increasing every year and “though with our current efforts, we are still far from achieving the target set by UNICEF for the HIV program, the 95-95-95 (diagnosis, treatment, and level of viral load suppression) target.”
The strategy aims to reach 95% of people suspected of living with HIV to know their HIV status by 2026; 95% of people knowing their HIV status will get treatment; and 95% of people under HIV treatment to have viral suppression.
Once the 95-95-95 targets are achieved, this will limit the spread of the epidemic to manageable levels and will allow it to move to the epidemic eradication phase, according to UNICEF.
Data from PHO indicated that the province recorded 153 HIV cases in 2020, which increased to 229 cases in 2021, and 289 cases in 2022.
The province had an average of 24 reported cases per month last year, but for 2023, Iloilo has already recorded 29 cases in January alone.
The total number of HIV cases in Iloilo has already increased to 1,518 with 172 deaths since 1986 and 96% of total infected individuals are composed of males.
The most affected age group is 25 to 34 years old with 738 cases, followed by 15 to 24 years old with 481 cases; 35 to 49 years old with 261 cases; 50 and older with 34 cases, and 15 and below with 4 cases.
“Pinaka-common gyapon naton nga mode of transmission is males having sex with males only, which is about 58% of total cases, followed by males having sex with both males and females with 26% and males having sex with females only at 14%,” Dr. Rodney Labis added.
The PHO added that they are intensifying their HIV counseling and testing coverage in the province.
“Sa subong ang aton stratehiya diri sa probinsya amu ang pagpataas pa gid sang aton HIV counseling and testing coverage para nga masmadamo pa gid ang makabalo sang ila HIV status kag para madiagnose naton ang wala ta pa madetect nga persons nga living with HIV sa probinsya,” Labis said in an interview.
“Ginasuportahan man naton ang rural health units (RHUs) sa province nga macredit as primary HIV care clinic para makahatag na sila testing and treatment services for HIV para sa sentro pa lang maka-provide na medication,” he added.
The PHO also reminded the public to use contraceptives to prevent infection and get tested as testing centers in the province are free.
Some testing centers in Iloilo province and city include the Western Visayas Medical Center in Mandurriao, Iloilo City, Rep. Pedro G, Trono Memorial Hospital in Guimbal town, Iloilo Provincial Hospital in Pototan Iloilo, Jesus M. Colmenares Memorial District Hospital in Balasan, Iloilo, St. Paul’s Hospital Iloilo, and The Medical City Iloilo.
“Importante gid nga mabal-an sang aton pumuluyo ang ila HIV status para as early as possible kung na-infect sila, ma-diagnose naton gilayon and malink sila sa facility treatment para malikawan nga mahulog na sa AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) ang ila kondisyon,” Labis stressed.
“Sa subong target man naton hindi lang maka-test sang madamo kundi ang testing dapat target sa key affected population para dako ang chance nga ma-detect naton ang mga PLHIV (persons living with human immunodeficiency virus),” he added.
IEC CAMPAIGNS FOR HIV
As a high number of cases were composed of adolescents, PHO also urged schools and local government units (LGUs) to strengthen their information education communication campaigns at the municipal level.
“Para mapataas ang awareness sang komunidad regarding sa HIV program, ginatinguhaan naton nga ma-intensify pa gid ang information education communication campaign para sa program para mas madamo pa gid malab-ot sa komunidad. Ang aton campaign ga focus kung paano malikawan ang HIV, ang importance sang HIV counseling,” Labis said.
The Department of Education (DepEd)-6, on the other hand, said in an interview that the education sector in the region continues to implement programs such as Adolescent Reproductive Health, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression, and distribution of HIV-related IEC materials to ensure maximum awareness.
Different Schools Division Offices (SDOs) in the region are also constantly doing advocacy campaigns and other activities in coordination with their respective local health authorities, according to DepEd-6 information officer Hernani Escullar Jr.
“One project example is Project Tib-ong Kabataan: Adolescent Development Program for schools of SDO Iloilo. The target of this program is the secondary schools and they are doing advocacies on HIV and teen pregnancy,” Escullar added.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian earlier called on the Department of Health (DOH) and DepEd to step up efforts on raising the youth’s awareness on HIV as 86 out of the 1,453 reported new HIV cases in the country this year are teens, with 79 cases aged from 10 to 19 years old, and seven children aged below 10 years old.
Gatchalian stressed that the alarming situation needs closer collaboration among different government agencies as he plans to pursue a Senate inquiry on HIV infections among youths, as well as teenage pregnancies.
“Nais nating tiyakin na sapat ang kaalaman ng ating mga kabataan pagdating sa HIV, lalo na’t maaaring magdulot ito ng pinsala sa kanilang kalusugan at kapakanan,” Gatchalian added.