ALTHOUGH Mindanao is mostly known for its battle against terrorism, its fight against HIV-AIDS should not be ignored.
Colin Powell, a retired US Army General, once said no war on the face of the Earth is more destructive than the AIDS pandemic.
For the past three years, several cities of Mindanao have been significant contributors to the country’s statistical records of people living with HIV-AIDS.
In 2010, the people in Mindanao were surprised that Davao City placed second as one of the cities in the Philippines with highest HIV-AIDS cases.
In the following year, Department of Health (DOH) noted 88 cases of HIV case in Northern Mindanao. And recently, DOH’s records showed that just within 2012, a total of 15 people in Davao City died because of AIDS.
According to “The Encyclopaedia of Phobias, Fears, and Anxieties” written by Ronald Doctor, the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or shortly known as AIDS is the final stage of the illness caused by HIV.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV is a retrovirus that primarily affects body cells which have a key role in regulating the immune response or the ability of the body to fight off the infection.
The HIV infects the white blood cell, specifically the T4 helper cell, which normally fights off the infection of the human body. Thus, people living with HIV have weak immune system which makes them highly susceptible to all sorts of infection.
There are three underlying factors behind this growing numbers of HIV-AIDS cases in Mindanao.
First is poverty. Like any other problems of the society, HIV-AIDS is somehow linked with poverty.
Based on National Statistics Coordination Board’s poverty data for 2012 first semester, five among the 10 poorest provinces of the Philippines are from Mindanao. Such provinces belong to Region IX, Region XI, Region XII, and ARMM.
Incidentally, such regions too are consistently making significant contributions to HIV-AIDS cases in Philippines, especially Region XI.
Most of the people affected by HIV-AIDS are the ones who are marginalized by the society.These are the people who don’t have proper education about HIV-AIDS and thus, they engage into activities which are highly susceptible to such infection.
Because of their societal status, they also usually have less access to HIV counselling and testing facilities. That is why majority of them are unaware of their infection and are more likely to pass it on.
And even though some of them might be aware of their infection, they still do nothing about it due to financial reasons.
Second is stigma.
Stigma is the negative attitude of the society towards a certain person or group of people because of a certain attribute such as illness, nationality, religion, and whatnot.
According to Coalition for Elimination of AIDS-related Stigma (CEAS), the most stigmatized medical condition today is HIV-AIDS. While some people regard cancer patients as heroes, conversely, other people consider people living with HIV-AIDS as bad examples. They think that these people are being punished for their actions.
Because of this, many people living with HIV-AIDS are afraid to disclose their condition. They opt not to seek for any help thus, worsening the infection.
Third is people’s lack of serious outlook towards the issue of HIV-AIDS.
American rapper, Tracy Marrow or also known as Ice T, said “AIDS is such a scary thing that you think won’t happen to you. It can happen to you and it’s deadly serious.”
Although many people today, especially those who have access to the internet and television, are most likely already aware of HIV-AIDS and its risks, only few take the disease seriously.
Some people don’t believe that their risky behaviors might actually lead them to HIV-AIDS infection therefore they still continue doing it. These people don’t consider the possibility of getting HIV-AIDS for some reasons despite the prevalence of such infection.
For instance, when the news about Davao City being the second city in the Philippines with the highest HIV-AIDS cases broke out, people then were alarmed.
The news serves as a warning for everyone; however, a year after, the numbers of HIV-AIDS cases in Mindanao doubled.
Aside from terrorism, the Philippine government should also focus to the increasing HIV-AIDS cases in Mindanao. The local government should be more active in promoting campaigns concerning HIV-AIDS. Unlike with terrorism, you can’t have peace talk with HIV virus. People have no choice but to fight against it. (Elisha Jane C. Bernabe)
* Sunday Essays are articles by Ateneo de Davao University students for their advanced journalism class.