Working hand-in-hand to combat HIV and AIDS

“Hindi HIV ang magdidikta sa kinabukasan natin.”

This is JM Ouano’s striking message as a Person Living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (PLHIV) for 5 years now. 

The Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC), together with UNICEF Philippines, commemorated the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial on May 17, with the theme “We Remember. We Take Action. We Live Beyond HIV.”

Parents, adults, social workers, and health care workers are encouraged to ensure the safety of the children and their protection against the virus.

Rapid growth in PH, ASPAC

Dr. Louie Ocampo of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) expounded on the rapid growth of HIV cases in the Philippines among the Asia and the Pacific region.

He said majority of the youth would have their sexual debut at 16 years old, while the use of condoms will only happen at 19 years old.

The prevalence of this “condom lag” is where most transmission of HIV happens, thus the need to raise awareness among the youth to protect themselves. 

As of January 2021, the Epidemiology Bureau of the Department of Health reported 890 new cases of HIV-positive individuals and 220 of them were youth within the age range of 15 to 24 years old. 

The modes of transmission of the virus were sexual contact (male-male and male-female sex), sharing of infected needles, and mother-to-child transmission. 

Of these cases, 33 are children and adolescents PLHIV—one was 10 to 14 years old, six were 15 to 17 years old, and 26 were 18 to 19 years old.

HIV service delivery in the New Normal

The Community and Family Services International (CFSI) continue their initiatives amid the pandemic in order to promote good health of the young generation, strengthen the capacity of Pasay City and CFSI’s health system, and continue knowledge development and advocacy. 

Peer educators and peer volunteers or the Youth Community Mobilizers (Y-COMs) of CFSI engage the community to establish a relationship with the people through identifying and targeting the community hotspots, such as basketball or volleyball courts and parks. 

They also conduct health promotion activities face-to-face and online. The Youth Activity Center is also open for young people’s awareness activities. 

The Alternative Service Delivery Model implements the Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) and HIV services through the referrals of peer educators and Y-COMs to the CFSI clinic. 

These activities are anchored on five goals:

  1. To empower the young people to exercise their SRH rights
  2. To practice positive health-seeking behavior
  3. To lower unwanted and unplanned pregnancies
  4. To lower the rates of STIs including HIV
  5. To contribute to improve Gender-Based Violence (GBV) response and mitigate risk 

Prevention is better than cure

To end the HIV epidemic that causes thousands of deaths globally, Dr. Louie Ocampo enumerated ways on how to prevent and suppress the growing cases of HIV-positive individuals: 

Intensified comprehensive prevention

In a conservative country like the Philippines, the use of condoms and other contraceptives is frowned upon. But in this time and age, people must work together to destigmatize condom use to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and infections (STDs/STIs) and HIV.

Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) services should also be scaled up. PrEP is a daily pill that can be taken by people who tested negative for HIV to prevent getting infected.

Institutions are also encouraged to participate in this. Workplaces should implement an HIV program and policy for their employees and schools should institutionalize a comprehensive sex education for the students. This does not only end in the four corners of a room but it should also be extended to virtual spaces and social media to reach the majority of target populations.

Expand testing modalities

Community-based screening is suggested in order to bring services closer to communities, most especially now in a time of a pandemic wherein most people cannot travel. Self-testing is also a newer mode of testing wherein testing kits will be sent to those who are in need and they can do it on their own.

The Rapid HIV Diagnostic Algorithm (RHIVDA) is a confirmatory test that does not require a lot of time and minimizes delay of treatment of people who tested HIV-positive.

Partner notification is another strategy for PLHIVs to inform their partner/s about their diagnosis and let them undergo HIV testing.

Early initiation of treatment and adherence to treatment

People who were diagnosed HIV-positive should undergo treatment immediately in order to prevent further health complications.

The establishment of one-stop-shop treatment facilities should be increased for the convenience of PLHIVs.

PhilHealth also provides the Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment (OHAT) Package and the organization is urged to include condoms, PrEPs, and testing kits to complete and ensure the sustainability of the package.

New antiretroviral (ARV) drugs such as Dolutegravir (DTG) will also be introduced with lesser side effects as compared to old ARVs.

Since HIV treatment is a lifelong process, social support should also be present to ensure that PLHIVs will not stop their treatment once started to avoid drug resistance and progression of HIV to AIDS.

Enabling environment

Operationalizing the human rights roadmap is one way to address the barriers to accessing HIV services. This includes the destigmatization and reduction of discrimination in society, inclusive of workplaces and institutions.

HIV/AIDS organizations also need financing to include social contracting programs and a framework that will allow civic space funding for service delivery. 

About the Author

Tricia Allyson Salvador is a Communication student from the University of Santo Tomas and currently an intern of

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