The need to cope with AIDS

I am in Cotabato City today. My batchmate Zaynab Ampatuan invited me to give a series of lectures on the youth situation.

Thank you Marlon for providing the data I used in this article.

"Every minute, a child under 15 dies of an AIDS-related illness. Every minute, another child becomes HIV-positive. Every minute, four young people between the ages of 15 and 24 contract HIV," says the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV damages the defense system of the body. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS is caused by infection with HIV. The infected person develops a number of serious illnesses which eventually leads to death.

Some people develop AIDS shortly after being infected with HIV. Some live with HIV for more than ten years before developing AIDS.

Last year, 4.3 million people around the world were infected with HIV, more than in any previous year. There seems to be a lack of progress in lowering the number of HIV cases.

The first reported HIV case in the Philippines was in 1984. Dolzura Cortez was the first prominent HIV-infected person in the country. After her life story was made into a film in 1992, more people living with AIDS came out into the open and revealed how they were struggling with the disease.

According to the National Epidemiology Center, there were 2,965 HIV Ab seropositive cases reported from January 1984 to September 2007. More than half of the cases were in the 25-39 years age group. Sixty-six percent were males. Sexual intercourse, mainly through heterosexual contact, remained the leading mode of transmission. About 307 have already died due to AIDS-related complications.

The average cumulative annual increase of cases is at 110. But since 2002, an average of 20 cases per month has been reported. This figure may be higher because many persons infected with AIDS are still undocumented or unwilling to report their condition.

According to a study conducted in 2004, the estimated number of people living with HIV in the country may reach 9,000. For every known HIV/AIDS case, there are three to four individuals who are unaware of their condition.

An area is recognized as high-risk to AIDS prevalence if it is a tourist area, highly urbanized, contains a high number of transit points and a high number of registered entertainment establishments. High risk groups include female sex workers, deep-sea fishermen, injecting drug users and overseas Filipino workers.

The high prevalence of sexually transmitted infections is another indicator of high-risk behavior. Young people are also vulnerable because of the high percentage of those engaging in unprotected sex. Condom use has been consistently low in the Philippines. It is also alarming that more than 60 percent of the youth believe there is no chance for them to contract HIV/AIDS and only half of them know the major methods of preventing transmission of HIV.

In 1998, the Philippines passed the AIDS Prevention and Control Act which laid the basis for a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS response. Some local governments also created Local AIDS Councils to strengthen advocacy for AIDS prevention and awareness campaign. There is a need for an independent assessment to validate if the mandates of the law are operational and if the local councils are functioning.

The Fourth AIDS Medium Term Plan (2005-2010) seeks to maintain HIV prevalence in the Philippines below one percent of the general population. Preventive interventions focus on education, condom promotion, STI management, voluntary counseling and testing, harm reduction and stigma reduction. Institutions are asked to integrate HIV/AIDS policies. Schools, work places, communities and mass media are tasked to take the lead in offering programs and services to help reduce AIDS incidences.

Support, treatment and care for those infected with AIDS involve clinical care, home care, palliative care, ante-natal and community support. There should be an increase in the percentage of people with advanced HIV infection receiving anti-retroviral combination therapy.

The government should target more schools with education on HIV/AIDS integrated into the curriculum. The country’s 30 largest companies, 100 medium and 100 small-scale enterprises should have HIV/AIDS education programs. Government spending on health facilities should be increased.

Last June, the government health department included call center workers as among those vulnerable to HIV infection. Public officials, employers and the workers themselves should be aware that risky behavior in call center establishments, like taking drugs to remain awake during the nightshift and unsafe sexual practices, may lead to HIV infection. Preventive education and counseling programs are needed in call center companies.

Stakeholders should exert the best efforts to prevent discrimination against people infected with HIV/AIDS. Positive attitudes should be harnessed in the community to facilitate the integration of AIDS victims. Leadership is important to prevent a rise in the number of AIDS cases and foster respect for the human rights of all HIV-infected persons.

Related entries:

Sex and youth
Usapang gatas

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