Editorial: A hidden threat

AN epidemic urgently needs attention and answers in the Philippines, the United Nations (UN) has warned. It’s not illegal drug abuse, although that’s also part of the problem.

In the last six years, the Philippines has reported the fastest rise in HIV infections and AIDS, and the UN has appealed to the government at all levels to “re-direct its focus on the people most at risk and where they are located.”

Here’s the situation close to home: In January 2018, the Department of Health (DOH) in Central Visayas said there were 98 persons with HIV who had not been counted in previous records. Health officials also confirmed in the same month that nine persons in the region were living with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) who had not been documented before. In January 2017, there were 58 newly documented persons with HIV, which means this year’s figure is 69 percent higher.

In both years, those 25 to 34 years old made up the largest number of persons living with HIV or AIDS, a SunStar Super Balita report quoted Dr. Van Philip Baton as saying. Nearly half of the 98 HIV-positive persons recorded in January were men who had sex with other men. Those who acquired the virus from intravenous drug use made up about 18 percent of the group.

The rising figures are alarming, and so is the widespread silence about a major public health threat. Local governments can help by providing rapid HIV testing and counseling, as the Cebu City Government’s social hygiene clinic does. Schools and community organizations can help further by spreading information about responsible sexual behavior.

Early testing is crucial. In 2015, the DOH head office reported that only 16 percent of men who have sex with men and transgender women who have sex with men had been tested. That was an improvement over previous numbers, but still low, given that majority of new infections were from these groups. By the UN’s estimates, of the 36.7 million worldwide who were living with HIV in 2016, 30 percent did not know they had the virus—which meant they could unwittingly spread it to others.

It’s one of the most painful ironies of the times we live in. More information than we know what to do with fills our days, and yet many remain uninformed about a public health crisis that’s preventable, if only we were less squeamish in talking about it.

In the more than three decades since HIV/AIDS records have been kept in the country, HIV has infected nearly 5,000 persons in Central Visayas. Let’s not allow apathy or ignorance to afflict more.  
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