Cendaña: New face of the epidemic

IT HAS come to this.

The HIV epidemic in our country has a new face and it is the face of a young person. Before us now is by and large a youth epidemic.

As the global community commemorates World AIDS Day today, the National Youth Commission (NYC) calls attention to the incidence of HIV among young Filipinos. The NYC is extremely alarmed by the unprecedented spike in HIV infection among our youth. HIV AIDS is one of the most urgent concerns facing the Filipino youth today.

Our young people are at risk and vulnerable. Lack of access to correct information and limited access to services are rendering them more vulnerable. There has to be immediate and comprehensive interventions to address this epidemic.

Data and trends paint a grim picture as the majority of people living with HIV (PLHIV) in the Philippines are young. HIV incidence in the country is increasing at a "fast and furious" rate. Even more "fast and furious" is the rate of infection among our youth.

At least, two in three of PLHIV are from the youth sector.

Data obtained by the NYC show that 62 percent of all new HIV infections are among young people 15 to 24 years old. If the age coverage is expanded to 15 to 30 years old, the youth percentage in all new HIV infections reaches a staggering 85 percent.

Currently, there are 29 Filipinos that get infected everyday in the Philippines. More than half of those who get infected are young. 19 out of the 29 are 15 to 24 years old. 25 out of the 29 are 15 to 30 years old.

The epidemic is affecting young people at an unprecedented rate.

Filipinos especially the youth should be constantly reminded that HIV is preventable. There is the urgent need to empower young people with the proper information and develop their life skills to reduce risky behavior.

Unprotected sex is the main driver of this epidemic. Families, schools and communities must enable the youth to make responsible decisions. Responsible decisions range from abstaining from sex to using a condom.

NYC encourages the youth to get tested. Very few among sexually active youth get tested for HIV. Stigma, discrimination or lack of access prevent the youth from doing so. Testing is very important because without diagnosis, treatment cannot be started. HIV positive youth will die fast without anti-retroviral drugs.

HIV is not a death sentence. It is really important for sexually active young people and people who inject drugs to get tested. The earlier they know of their HIV status, the earlier they can seek care and treatment to improve quality of life.

Because of the high incidence of HIV among young people, NYC is also advocating for HIV testing for 15 to 17 year olds even without parental consent. This is the only way to jumpstart the "test and treat" cycle among young key affected populations. (To be continued)

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