Sunday, October 17, 2010

HIV Cases Rising Among MSM, Patients Getting Younger

Manila Bulletin

By Carina L. Cayon

Davao City, Philippines (15 October) -- Advocacy groups have raised alarm on the increasing cases of HIV positive in the country, along with the climbing number of "Men who have sex with Men" (MSM) and transgenders (TG) as the current most-at-risk-population.

The groups also disclosed that patients of the human immunodeficiency virus were getting younger scoring at the age of 17 to 24 years old based from the recent reported cases.

According to Dr. Ferchito Avelino, authorized HIV diagnostics laboratories in the country confirmed some 5,864 HIV positive cases as of July this year, since the first case came out in 1984.

Avelino cited Davao Region to rank second, next to the National Capital Region as to the number of HIV positive cases, noting that 170 cases which represent 3.2 percent of the total cases nationwide have been reported in Region 11.

He informed that 85% of the region's cases or 144 HIV positive cases were found to be in Davao City.

"Malaki ang contribution ng Davao City sa bilang ng cases ng Davao Region," said Avelino who is executive director of the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC), a government entity that functions as an advisory, planning and policy-making body for the comprehensive and integrated HIV/AIDS prevention and control program in the country.

Avelino stated "this is a big challenge to the government from the regional down to barangay level on how to address this problem."

According to Jeff Fuentes, Davao City Health Office has reported 18 deaths from the 70 cases it has recorded since 1993.

Fuentes, CHO population program officer, said that CHO has recorded four cases in 2007, while 14 in 2008.

This year, he noted, there were 17 persons infected with HIV as reported from January to July, which was same as the number of cases recorded the whole year of 2009.

"The first semester of this year already covered the one year data of 2009. Cases have doubled. That's how alarming it is." stressed Fuentes.

According to him, all cases came from the sector of MSM/TG who had multiple sex partners and had inconsistent condom use. He added that all had high educational attainment.

He also said that 47% of the total HIV infected persons in the city belonged to the age bracket of 25-29 years old, while 35% came from the age bracket of 20-24.

But the main age, Fuentes stressed, were getting younger at the age of 17-24 based from the recent HIV surveillance which was accounted for January to July 2010 report.

Dr. Philip Castro of the United Nations Development Programme, revealed that the Philippines is one of countries in Asia with a rapid increase of HIV cases among MSM.

Castro informed that UNDP-Bangkok has been supporting regional initiatives in Asian countries, citing for instance the development of comprehensive packages to address the epidemic among MSM/TG.

"For a long time, ginawa na natin ang mga interventions with MSM. But, despite our rapid interventions, tumataas pa rin ang kaso natin," Castro said.

The alarming HIV situation among MSM/TG has brought about the recent gathering of advocacy groups and leaders of the MSM/TG communities during the first Visayas and Mindanao Regional Conference held in the city last week of September.

Dr. Edelina dela Paz, executive director of the Health Action Information Network (HAIN), said "the conference equates us to address issues and concerns not only on the basic human rights of the sector but also on their access to basic social services and the right to self respect."

HAIN is a non-government organization that does advocacy, research, information and education strategies on health and development, including HIV/AIDs or the Acquire Immunodeficiency Syndrome.

In a media release, UNDP Country Director Renaud Meyer said "the recent trend in the epidemic and the emerging HIV challenges require a cadre of strong advocates and champions that will put forward the agenda of MSM and TG."

Meyer, who attended the conference, further stated "the disturbing trend in the country call for concrete actions that will not only create awareness on the emerging issues and challenges of HIV and AIDS, but more importantly, tackle HIV and AIDS from a broader perspective that goes beyond access to health care and support services."

Akbayan Party List representative Atty. Arlene Bag-ao, who was the keynote speaker of the conference, expressed frustrations on the low government fund for HIV/AIDS considering that it was lumped to the TB and dengue budget.

Bag-ao, however, hoped that the budget would be increased next year to address the climbing number of HIV cases in the country. "This entails lots of efforts. The Congress is working on it," she told the local media during the conference.

Meanwhile, IWAG Dabaw, Inc., a gay organization in Davao City, has been doing advocacy, massive information and education drive and workshops to elevate the level of awareness among its members.

IWAG Dabaw executive director Rhoy Diaz said the issue on HIV/AIDS has been taken for granted for a time, adding that his group has to employ a new approach to be effective and has been working hard to decrease number of HIV infection in the city.

Diaz said that during their workshops, they have to inform the HIV prevalence in the communities without mentioning the names of the persons infected with the virus. (PIA-XI)

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