PRESIDENT Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has directed the Department of Health (DOH) to also prioritize campaigns against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and tuberculosis (TB) aside from the response against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

In a meeting with health officials on Tuesday, December 6, 2022, Marcos urged the DOH to start refocusing again on the general public health concerns without compromising the fight against Covid-19.

“Siyempre Covid has not come away. [We] still have to deal with it but let’s not deal with Covid to the... at the expense of all these other public health concerns,” Marcos said.

In response, DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said the country gained headway in its battle against HIV but encountered hurdles during the Covid-19 pandemic because of state-imposed curbs.

She said cases of HIV increased during the pandemic as a result of the restrictions, which prevented people from undergoing HIV screenings.

“People were not able to go for screening, were not able to get their medicines because of the lockdown, so what we did during the time of pandemic, we were already sending per individual or per patient ‘yung kanilang mga gamot through LBC para lang makainom sila ng gamot,” Vergeire said.

She said they are also working against stigma and discrimination, among the reason why individuals who are experiencing HIV symptoms refuse to seek medical attention.

“So we’re working with the other sectors so that we can be able to make the services more accessible,” the official added.

Untreated HIV could lead to the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a chronic and potentially life-threatening condition.

In terms of tuberculosis, Vergeire said they have been going around the country to launch the primary care program that includes TB-Directly Observed Therapy (DOTS).

She said TB, which has reemerged because of its high transmissibility affects mostly the poor Filipinos.

Vergeire also expressed concern over the many cases of multi-drug resistance.

“So, for example, they have prescriptions that will be given by doctors who just need them... medicines for just one, two months, they will not finish their medicines and they become resistant,” Vergeire said.

She said some patients receiving medicines from the government offer them to other people without prior consultation with health professionals.

She said the agency has intensified its surveillance and monitoring, noting that they lose patients because of internal migration.

Vergeire said the DOH has partnered with the United States Agency for International Development (USAid), which donated a tool using artificial intelligence.

“So mag-X-ray ka dito for example ‘yung province A, will just be sent to an app on the phone in minutes you get your chest x-ray reading to artificial intelligence and right away you subject the patient to sputum examination, and in three to four hours they start your medication,” Vergeire said.

“So we’re trying to go around the different provinces to do this. Hopefully, we get to reduce the number of cases,” she added. (SunStar Philippines)