TABUK CITY, Kalinga – Even with the steep rise of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) positivity rates among Filipinos, particularly the youth and men having sex with men (MSM) due to risky sexual behavior and practices, the Tabuk Rural Health Unit (RHU)-III still only gets few clients for voluntary testing.
Nurse II Charity Puday said only 57 patients were voluntarily tested of the dreaded infection from January to December of this year.
She said based on their records, only four MSM went for testing in March and May 2017. Two hospitality girls and two couples were tested for November 2017.
Inquired for the reasons behind the small number, peer educator RHU II Nurse Rosebert Cirilo explained that the number is attributed to a fear of knowing their HIV status especially among risky groups. This means that members of these target groups restrain the consequences of their sexual activities.
Other reasons mentioned are patients not making the time to get tested at the center. They hold on to the belief that testing is only for those engaged in multiple sexual activities, or the unsympathetic response they get from other people when going on for testing.
Cirilo cautioned it is only through testing that a person is assured of their HIV status. He added a person can still be tested even if they have not engaged in any harmful sexual activity, because the virus can also be acquired through needle or syringe use.
“Before a testing is made, counseling is performed to inform the person of the transmission and detection of the virus, the voluntary preparation for possible effect, and exploration of feelings and support of family,” Puday emphasized.
Concerning the high HIV prevalence among MSM, City Health Physician Gwendolyn Gabit said members of this group have an increased chance of being exposed to the virus mainly due to lack of protection during sexual relations within the group. However, she said there are also other factors that put MSM at heightened risk of HIV.
She informed MSM of 15 to 24-year-olds old pose high HIV infection and sexual risk but only a few want to know their HIV status.
Against the national statistics of 1,962 new HIV cases reported from July to August this year, or an average of 31 cases a day, Gabit disclosed that there is one HIV case in the city, explaining that the person was infected from having sexual activities with the same sex and is now undergoing treatment.
She said that there were six cases reported in the province since 1998-2015 and most of them are MSM.
When asked about the reliability of HIV testing results, Gabit said it is strengthened by a sequence of confirmatory tests done at accredited health institutions like the nearby Cagayan Valley Medical Center (CVMC) and Baguio General Hospital (BGH). All samples with reactive, or “positive”, results or results that are difficult to interpret are re-tested several times. Samples with negative results are not routinely re-tested.
The city health physician also said that those who were tested to be infected with HIV will not be admitted nor isolated but instead be counselled for an effective treatment procedure and medicines are given free for a lifetime treatment.
Tabuk RHU III intensified its Information Education Campaign (IEC) on HIV to control the spread of the dreaded illness, sexually transmissible infections, and teenage pregnancy awareness among students. It continues to distribute condoms and lubricants among both straight and gay men since 2016.
Described to be an alarming threat to human health, Gabit said IEC is the best strategy to eliminate HIV cases because it creates awareness on how people can possibly be infected and informs on the preventive ways to stop cases from soaring.
“Sexually active young people should get tested because the earlier they know their HIV status, the earlier they can seek care and treatment to improve quality of life,” Gabit emphasized.
She underscored the need to remove the stigma against the disease, saying it is one of the reasons the virus continues to spread. The target population is discouraged from getting tested due to fear of being discriminated against.
Article VII (Discriminatory Acts and Policies) of RA 8504 (Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998) prohibits all forms of discrimination among HIV-infected people on the basis of their actual, perceived, or suspected status and assures the confidentiality of all details pertaining to the client being tested.
Now a permanent service of Tabuk City RHU-III, Gabit reminded about the importance of getting tested and knowing a partner’s HIV status. She advised to have less risky sex, to use condoms, to limit number of sexual partners, and to get tested and treated for STIs by talking to health care provider and not to inject drugs.
By Darwin S. Serion