SUBIC, Zambales – Rina and her partner, Gabby, look just like your everyday normal couple with two children. No one knows until they reveal, as they do to help those like them, that they go through life in Cebu carrying the burden of an incurable and dreaded disease – they have HIV-AIDS.
At first glance, Gabby's toned muscles -- which he had to maintain to keep his job as a “performer” in a nightclub in Manila in the early 90s – betray his condition in the last 23 years. He and Rina, his third AIDS-positive partner (the first two died of AIDS), look healthy and fit, thanks to the antiretroviral therapy program of the Department of Health-Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.
Imee and her teenage daughter were not as lucky. Her in-laws in the province burned her personal belongings and drove them out of the house after her seaman-husband died of HIV-AIDS. She learned too late, she was already pregnant that time. For the past 13 years, both Imee and her daughter are living in secrecy, categorized as people living with HIV- AIDS. They are currently on ART.
From 1984 to May this year, 34,158 cases of HIV-positive were reported to the HIV-AIDS and ART Registry of the Philippines. More than half, or 17,484, are 25-34 years old, while 27 percent or 9,167 patients are 15-24 years.
The spread of the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes the acquired immune deficiency syndrome at a rate of one case per hour, prompted the Department of Health to step up its campaign against the deadly virus.
“There is an HIV epidemic in the Philippines, and we have to stop its spread as it causes AIDS,” Dr. Rossana Ditangco, head of the country's AIDS group at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, told journalists in a seminar on HIV-AIDS Reporting.
Starting 2011, men comprised 95 percent or 26,876 of the reported 28,143 cases. The number of newly-diagnosed cases of HIV among women has been increasing since 2009. Twenty-four percent (609) of the cases come from the 15-24 year age group, while 43 percent (1,100) come from 25-34 year olds.
Dr. Genesis May Samonte, program manager of the DOH Epidemiology Bureau Surveillance and Strategic Unit, warned that HIV transmission from mother to child is more likely to increase if the women do not get HIV care. ART, for instance, is a combination of medications which do not kill or cure HIV but which can prevent or slow down its growth.
The age group with the biggest proportion of cases has become younger at 25-34 years old starting in 2006, she noted, from an older age group of 35-49 years in 2001. “Notably, the proportion of HIV-positive cases in the 15-24 year age group increased to 28 percent starting 2011,” she added, stressing “the need for everyone” to get tested.
From 1984 till May 2016, most of the HIV-positive patients were recorded in the National Capital Region (Metro Manila) with 45 percent (14,718 cases), Calabarzon Region composed of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon, 14 percent (4,717), and Central Visayas with nine percent or 3,066 patients.
For the same period, males having sex with males was recorded at 81 percent (25,657 cases), men-women sex at 13 percent (4,136), and sharing of infected needles at five percent (1,437).
More than half of the cases or 13,771 among MSM belonged to the 25-34 age group, while 30 percent (7,571) are 15-24 years old, a trend the DOH noticed in 2010, and which has continually increased since. Starting 2011, 85 percent (22,729) of new infections were among MSMs.
Eighty-four children below 10 years old, and seven persons aged 10-19 years were reported to have acquired HIV through the mother-to-child transmission. The cases among injecting drug users spiked in 2010 with nine percent or 147 cases.
Samonte said almost half of the MSM cases were in NCR, almost all of the IDU were from Central Visayas, and 43 percent of the women sex workers were from Central Luzon.
She added there were 739 cases of HIV-positive that were recorded, with ages between 2-69 years in May 2016 alone. More than half belonged to the 25-34 year age group, while 27 percent are 15-24 years old.
She said the modes of HIV transmission were sexual contact (687 cases), sharing of infected needles among people who inject drugs (50), and mother-to-child (two cases). She said that 86 percent of the transmission by sexual activities was between MSMs.
Nine newly-diagnosed HIV-positive cases are pregnant: six from NCR, two from Cebu City, one from Iloilo. Five of them are between 15-24 years old. This has brought the total number to 29 pregnant HIV-positive patients from January to May this year.
“Which means about 30 percent or nine babies will be born with HIV because the men did not protect their partners,” Samonte said.
Twenty-nine cases in a span of five months this year already surpassed the 2014 data of 18 pregnant women with HIV in 12 months. Last year, 40 cases were diagnosed with HIV.
The seven cases of infants infected from their mothers in the last five months this year also exceeded the 2014 data of five HIV-positive infants in 12 months. Last year, 17 infants were born with HIV.*IRMA PAL
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