DOH to boost collaborations with other partners to make campaigns vs HIV more effective

By Leilani S. Junio

MANILA, Nov. 25 (PNA) — The Department of Health (DOH) highlighted on Wednesday the need to boost further its collaborations with other partners in the country for correct and comprehensive knowledge on human immunodeficiency virus HIV) to make efforts in its prevention and transmission more effective.

“We need to strengthen our partnership with other government agencies such as the Department of Education, as well as community-based organizations, in order to reach the young key populations with correct information,” Health Secretary L. Garin said in the HIV Forum held at H2O Hotel in Manila.

According to Secretary Garin, they want to penetrate the grassroots in the campaign through the students and putting it inside the school.

“We will be putting it in the area where at a very early age people should be aware… where elementary students should know… HIV patients are part of our community. We welcome them, but we don’t want our children to become HIV positive…,” she said.

“Based on the latest data gathered, correct HIV knowledge still remains low among key populations and fares below the target of 80 percent for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which set targets and strategies to halt and reverse the spread of HIV-AIDS,” Dr. Garin explained.

She also said that data show that less than 40 percent of males and transgenders having sex with males, female sex workers, and people who inject drugs (PWID) demonstrate comprehensive knowledge on HIV.

The Health Chief noted that the number of reported newly-diagnosed HIV cases in the country is increasing.

From January to October this year, there were 6,552 individuals diagnosed with HIV.

“This is 37 times higher than the total number of people diagnosed with HIV for the entire year in 2001 (174) during the start of the MDGs,” she said.

In 2000, one HIV case was diagnosed every three days. By 2015, one case of HIV is detected every hour.

Also, HIV cases among males and transgenders having sex with males have increased 10 times in the past five years.In fact, the country has breached the United Nations’ five percent threshold in this group.

Five percent is the UN’s threshold to declare an area as having a concentrated HIV epidemic.

From 1984 to 2009, the predominant mode of HIV transmission was heterosexual sex. However in 2010, sharing of needles among PWIDs and unprotected sex among males and transgender having sex with males changed the epidemic scenario in the country.

Secretary Garin said that HIV prevalence is now above five percent in eight cities in the country — Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Puerto Princesa, Mandaue, Davao, Quezon City, Paranaque and Makati. In Cebu, HIV prevalence is already at 14 percent.

She said that while the target for condom use among males having sex with males (MSMs) to stop the epidemic is set at 80 percent, still, the country has only reached about 44 percent.

She noted that a decline on new infections among MSMs can only be possible if there is an increase in condom use and sustain it at a high rate.

According to the 2015 Integrated HIV Behavioral and Serologic Surveillance (IHBSS), one of the reasons cited for low condom use was its unavailability (54 percent), followed by rejection of using condoms during sexual activity (21 percent).

To address this problem, Dr. Garin said the DOH has appropriated a budget for the procurement of condoms and lubricants, and has been distributing these in the regions.

Currently, DOH is identifying areas where to best distribute these condoms together with intensified peer education to promote condom use, especially in high-risk populations.

Peer educators will be among those that will reach out to the community level to ensure that the targeted populations will be fully aware of the availability of condoms as a preventive step in ensuring that the number of HIV cases can be reduced and spread will be halted because gaining knowledge on availability of condoms and anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs are provided by the government.

According to the data provided, the HIV prevalence in the 15-24 age bracket population has increased from .006 percent in 2001 to .053 percent in 2015.

“This translates to more than 800 percent increase,” Secretary Garin said.

She further revealed that the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) have again set a global target for 2020 to meet the target.

The goals are targeting that 90 percent of all PLHIV (People Living with HIV) will know their status, will receive ARV treatment and 90 percent of all receiving ARV treatment will have stable viral suppression.

The goals are expected to be met with more active collaborations and partnership for further spreading of information on halting lowering the number of incidence of HIV so that increased awareness on the people’s status and how they can prevent spreading HIV or be protected from it will be a normal procedure just like having regular consultation on common illnesses.

“If we do not slow down our HIV epidemic, if we do not invest in preventing new HIV infections, the number of PLHIV will reach 133,000 by 2022,” Garin said.

She warned that such condition can lead the country in spending more because there will be a need for PhilHealth (Philippine Health Insurance Corp.) to spend PhP4 billion per year for the outpatient HIV package alone and would continue to increase each year unless the country can stop new infections.

“Our effort should actually be protecting the future generations,” she said. (PNA)