Editorial: Sex on the Internet

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

WHAT can be done to lower the rise of new cases with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the country?

The National Epidemiology Center recorded 278 persons diagnosed with HIV last July. This is 36 percent more than the 204 cases reported in July 2011.

For the first seven months of the year, new HIV cases hit 1,878. According to the passive surveillance conducted by the Philippine HIV


and Aids Registry, there is an aggregate of 10,242 cases, with 1,078 of these having full-blown Aids.

More aggressive

If the spread of HIV and Aids cannot be controlled, it is highly possible that up to 46,000 Filipinos could be infected with HIV by 2015.

This is the projection of the Philippine National Aids Council.

To address this public health issue, a Comprehensive HIV/Aids Prevention, Treatment, Care and Support Policy Art, also known as

House Bill (HB) 5312, has been proposed. Now with the House committee on appropriations, HB 5312 seeks to update the 14-year-old Aids Prevention and Control Law.

HB 5312 proposes infusing an additional P400 million to control and prevent the spread of the disease, according to a news release from Rep. Arnel Ty, one of the co-authors of HB 5312.

HIV and Aids is largely spread through sexual contact, particularly involving males having sex with other males (MSMs), and the sharing of contaminated needles among injecting drug users (IDUs).

MSMs accounted for 85 percent of the new cases in July. Of these cases, 16 were IDUs who reused contaminated needles.

The July cases also included overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who acquired HIV and Aids from sexual contact.

Advocacies informing and educating high-risk groups must also aggressively tap the Internet, particularly social media. Aside from OFWs, the median age of the July cases is 27 years, with those aged from 20 to 29 years representing 58 percent of the group.

The Internet, particularly social media, websites and chat groups, attracts youths and professionals for a variety of reasons, including making acquaintances or entering into transactions that may be sexual or lead to sexual contact.

The digital being the portal of choice for vulnerable groups, information that can contain high-risk behaviors like unprotected sex and needle-sharing should be aggressively disseminated here.

The Internet and digital communication technology can also guarantee counseling, which offers anonymity, confidentiality of information and sensitivity. Many Filipinos balk at submitting to HIV testing and medical interventions because of the fear of exposure and ostracism.

Unreported cases

A more aggressive campaign to contain the spread of HIV and Aids will not only save lives and government funds of up to P1 billion annually by 2015, which is estimated to be the cost of acquiring anti-retroviral drugs to slow down the ailment.

The country records a rise of cases of donated blood found contaminated with HIV. From January to August this year, at least 167 units of HIV-positive donated blood were recorded. This is an increase of 18 percent from the 142 units monitored in the same period in 2011.

According to an Oct. 7 news release by Ty, the rise of HIV-positive donated blood cases implies that there are more HIV and Aids cases that remain unreported and are not registered with the Philippine HIV and Aids Registry.

This also implies that these cases are not diagnosed and treated.

While the National Voluntary Blood Services Program screens and thus detects the contaminated blood cases, preventing these from entering the supply chain and infecting and creating new cases, the unreported cases highlight the need to improve existing programs to prevent and control the spread of HIV and Aids, as well as grant Filipinos living with HIV and Aids with the necessary treatment, long-term care,
welfare assistance and social protection.

According to Ty, the Philippines is one of seven countries struggling with HIV and Aids despite a downtrend on the global level, as monitored by the World Health Organization. For every Filipino with HIV, there may be up to three persons that remain undiagnosed.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 15, 2012.


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