Editorial: Parsing genders in HIV/STI literacy

LIFE AND DEATH MATTERS. Comprehensive knowledge of HIV/STI can empower individuals of all genders to preserve personal safety and share the responsibility for public health. / ENRICO SANTISAS
LIFE AND DEATH MATTERS. Comprehensive knowledge of HIV/STI can empower individuals of all genders to preserve personal safety and share the responsibility for public health. / ENRICO SANTISAS

Last February, 1,292 new cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) were recorded in the latest HIV/Aids Registry of the Philippines report.

This means that there were 47 average new cases every day in February 2023, reported by SunStar Philippines last Apr. 1.

Included in the monitoring are 337 individuals diagnosed as having advanced HIV.

With 80 persons diagnosed as having HIV, Central Visayas accounts for the least number of new cases.

The National Capital Region (NCR) was highest with 294 cases, representing a quarter of the total new cases, followed by Calabarzon with 253; Central Luzon, 133; and Davao Region, 84.

The SunStar Philippines report did not contain official interpretations of the high number of HIV cases recorded in February 2023.

The headline of the article noted, though, that February is the “love month.”

On Feb. 14, observed globally as Valentine’s Day, news reports and anecdotes relate the high occupancy rates of motels with an increase in sexual transactions.

If this notion is based on actualities, it is significant for stakeholders of public health to reflect on implications for the prevention of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), particularly in public information, education, and communication (IEC).

Does the dissemination of HIV- and STI-related IEC translate into decreasing the frequency of high-risk behaviors?

The Department of Health (DOH) noted that sexual intercourse accounted for 1,277 of the 1,292 new cases monitored by the HIV/Aids Registry of the Philippines.

Two of the new cases detected in February 2023 involved mother-to-child transmission. Thirteen cases had no data on the mode of transmission.

In the 1,277 cases of HIV transmission due to sexual contact, male-to-male transmission occurred in 905 of the cases; followed by 224 cases involving sex with male and female and 148 cases involving male-to-female sex.

While it is important for HIV/STI IEC to involve all genders, the data on the February 2023 new cases of HIV underscores the need to focus on men while enhancing the skills of women to negotiate that their partners avoid high-risk behaviors that make them vulnerable to HIV/STI transmission.

In 2018, the National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) published that more than majority of the women in the Philippines have a high level of knowledge about HIV prevention behaviors: “consistent use of condoms” for sexual contact and sexual intercourse only with an uninfected partner.

According to a Mar. 28, 2018 article posted on the Philippine Statistics Authority website, 66 percent of women in the country know that consistent use of the condom is a way of preventing HIV transmission.

About 84 percent of women know that restricting intercourse to only one uninfected partner is another way of preventing HIV infection.

More than 62 percent of women know that the two behaviors concerning condom use and monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner protect a person from acquiring HIV.

Further studies are needed to determine if knowledge of HIV prevention is translated by women into action in their relationships. As important as knowledge are women’s mindset and skills to demand or negotiate that their sexual partners also practice safe sex.

Public health stakeholders should focus IEC campaigns to condition men to practice safe sex to prevent the transmission of HIV/STI.

In macho Filipino culture, men are the initiators of and aggressors for sexual intercourse. It is crucial then that men practice HIV/STI prevention for personal safety and social responsibility, especially with male-to-male transmission accounting for the most number of new cases of HIV in February 2023.

Comprehensive knowledge of HIV/STI prevention includes awareness of common misconceptions, such as the perception that healthy-looking persons do not have HIV/STI; mosquitoes spread HIV/STI; and sharing food with a HIV-positive individual spreads transmission.


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