ADVOCATES for the prevention and education of HIV/Aids in Davao Region express concern that patients are getting younger due to early exposure to sex.

One of the main reasons for early sexual debut among the younger generation is attributed to easy access to social media, dating applications, and other online platforms with unregulated, inappropriate content.

Patrick Daison Albit, regional coordinator of the Global Fund Philippine Shell Foundation Inc. (PSFI) - HIV Program, said this exposure introduces them to sexual encounters at an early age while they are still uninformed about HIV/Aids and safe sex.

“Isa sa atong mga problema kay unsaon nato sila pag stop sa pag access sa social media kay dili man gyod nato mabantayan ilang mga gina-check sa internet (One of our main problem is how to stop or regulate their activity online but we all know that is difficult to do),” Albit said during a virtual presser on December 5.

From January to September this year, a total of 204 HIV/Aids cases have been recorded involving 15 to 24-year-olds, which is the youngest recorded age group. It is only next to the top age group of 25 to 34-year-olds with 300 cases.

Since 1993, the accumulated number of cases among 15 to 24-year-olds is 2,114 cases, 2,856 for 25 to 34 years old, 720 cases for 35 to 49-year-olds, 111 cases aged 50 and older, and 16 cases aged below 15 years.

Herminigilda Escalante, chapter program manager of the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines - Davao City Chapter said the phenomenon of younger HIV/Aids patients is becoming worrying.

"Mag manifest siya sa status and data of HIV and ang early sexual encounter, resulta ani naga-taas pud ang early and teen pregnancy,” Escalante said.

She added that the younger generation should know about proper protection and the practice of safe sex since early sexual debut may leave them vulnerable and exposed to HIV/Aids.

An individual testing positive for HIV/Aids meant they would have to live with it for the rest of their lives. Although it is incurable, HIV/Aids is manageable through consistent treatment thus providing support is one of the main campaigns of HIV/Aids advocates.

“Ang atoa na lang sa atong programa ay kung asa sila pwede mag access (What we provide instead is where they could get access to services). Dili man pud kanunay ang HIV/Aids matudlo pirmente sa eskwelahan kay special topic ni siya na usually na gina-request lang nato atong ahensya na mag oolecture ani (We can’t teach HIV/Aids regularly at schools since it is a special and sensitive topic),” Albit said.

He explained that individuals including minors can request for an HIV/Aids screening at different organizations and clinics without parental consent.

At the same time, they can get tested at community-based HIV screening, get HIV self-test from clinics and organizations, and access services at public HIV clinics in respective local government units.

Escalante added that different organizations are also working on reaching geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas to provide screening.

“Nakuratan pud ta na daghan-daghan na diay na natakdan og HIV but if ever mag reactive, or test reactive, ang pinaka the best gyod na ma-suggest is mag access og tambal (We are shocked by the increasing number of cases but the best thing they could do about it is to access treatment),” Albit said.

Meanwhile, the Davao Region logs a total of 612 cases of human immunodeficiency virus-acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/Aids) from January to September of this year.

The province of Davao del Norte has the most number of HIV/Aids cases with 98 so far this year, followed by Davao del Sur (excluding Davao City) with 47 cases, and Davao de Oro with 44 cases.

Davao Oriental and Davao Occidental have significantly low recorded HIV/Aids cases with 15 and 12 cases respectively, while Davao City made up the bulk of the region-wide cases with 396 cases so far this year.

Albit said the number of cases is increasing because more people are becoming comfortable seeking medical help as opposed to avoiding diagnosis and treatment.

“Ibig sabihin ang mgatao kabalo na sila kung asa pwede mag pa-test, asa pwede muadto nga libre, asa pwede mukuha og services na libre, and asa pwede mag patambal (The public are now more informed about where to get tested for free and access free treatment and services),” he said.

Of the 612, a total of 583 patients are male while 29 are female. The most prominent mode of transmission is also through male-to-male sexual intercourse which is made up of 413 cases while male-to-female-and-male intercourse has 125 cases and male-to-female intercourse with 71 cases.

The most common reason for the spread of HIV/Aids through sexual interaction is because of unprotected, penetrative sex involving an infected individual.

“That is sex without condom, protection. Next (mode of transmission) is mother-to-child na ang mother naa’y HIV na pwede niya mapasa sa baby (wherein the mother passes down the HIV to the child), and then blood-to-blood,” Albit said.

Among the five provinces in the region, apart from Davao City, Davao del Norte also tops the most number of cases accumulated since 1993, with 769 cases, followed by Davao del Sur with 324, Davao de Oro with 287, Davao Oriental with 178, and Davao Occidental with 88 cases. ICM