Thursday, February 09, 2012

[Vital Signs Column] Code RED for HIV

Vital Signs, is the FIRST newspaper for the medical community. It caters to doctors, health workers and other healthcare professionals, bringing them the latest health news, scientific updates, as well as opinions, and commentaries on current issues impacting healthcare delivery in the country. You can read Alvin Dakis' columns on nursing & social issues in every Vital Signs newspaper published every 1st & 15th of the month. 

The country has been dealing with HIV & AIDS for more than a decade now. And I believe that these interventions made significant changes in the campaign to halt & reverse the rate of infection. The country together with its partners in the civil society, private sector, medicine & the academe continue to work to achieve the Millennium Development Goal 6. But seriously, what is happening to the national HIV response? Why is there increasing number of cases of HIV in the country?

The December 2011 data of the DOH Philippine HIV & AIDS Registry showed that there 268 new cases reported. Looking back to the recorded data in the last six months, we have already reached a staggering 1,333 cases, the highest recorded ever in the Philippine history was in December 2011.
To break down the number of cases per month: 

July 2011             – 204 cases
August 2011         – 196 cases
September 2011   – 253 cases
October 2011       – 200 cases
November 2011     – 212 cases
December 2011    – 268 cases
TOTAL                 – 1,333 cases

The public is asking why the rise of cases if the Philippines has been working hard to reduce the number of new infections through its prevention and education programs? Does that mean the national HIV response of the Department of Health and the works of different Civil Society & Non-Government Organizations are failing? Because if they aren’t, we would somehow see a steady or decreasing number of cases per month.

One thing we have to take consideration is the public’s access to HIV education that is being done by DOH and many NGOs & CSOs nationwide through different media. Another is the public’s access to HIV screening and the services available to those who wanted to get tested. Considering all these initiatives & accessibility of HIV testing to the public, the increase in HIV cases may be due to the fact that people have access to facilities, education & services and incidentally increasing the number of people diagnosed with HIV - sounds logical to me. Having to consider this, the country’s national HIV response might be effective after all, but that doesn’t mean it is already sufficient to curb the numbers of new infections

Young People and HIV
In the recent DOH HIV & AIDS registry, 62% of the cases are from the age bracket of 20-29 – the same trend we saw in 2010 & 2011. How are young people responding to this data and are they even aware of this seemingly high percentage their population owns?

But HIV & AIDS is only one of the concerns of young people along with other reproductive & sexual health issues. However, this is already becoming too alarming and sitting in the bench would not be the best option for now. That is why I am glad that our organization, Alliance of Young Nurse Leaders & Advocates together with its sister organization, the Alliance of Young Health Advocates, work seriously to help in reaching more young people and educate them. AYNLA will start working with young nurses to train them as HIV educators & counselors while AYHA works with other young people & train them to become peer educators & policy advocates. Other organizations which are youth-led that works with young people on HIV & AIDS also are very commendable. Some of them which I am familiar with are Take The Test, The Love Yourself Project (which is founded by a young nurse as well), and the Youth Consortium for Reproductive Health – a consortium of 9 youth organizations of which AYNLA is one of the founders.

Young people’s active presence in social media also creates a very fertile ground for intervention & HIV awareness. The use of Facebook groups, Twitter microblogging, Youtube videos, online campaigns, photoshoots and personal blogging are effective means of bridging with the very active young people. We have seen some effective campaigns that utilized social media and created impact. In a microblogging site like Twitter, many of the information & social actions happening there are captured by the mainstream media such as in TV, radio and print. Having an online campaign that utilizes social media can be considered one of the best practices in the expansion of HIV & AIDS advocacy and awareness building in the country.

MSM: The Growing Concern
If we will be concerned that more than half of the recorded cases belong to young people, all the more we should be concerned with males who are having sex with males or commonly known as MSM. The current data shows that 94% of the total recorded cases are males and around 86% of the total recorded cases are MSMs who contracted the virus through sexual contact.

The high number of percentages causes a loud clarion call to all stakeholders especially the government to take immediate action as this shows a high rate in the previous years. And I do not think this percentage would go down any time soon if we do not do anything drastic.

A more intensive information dissemination campaign is encouraged and to train more MSM peer educators that would go to the common places where MSM hang out. It is important that MSM peer educators are well versed and confident about educating fellow MSMs and preferably encourage them to get their peers tested for HIV.

Another thing we can look into is the training of health professionals especially nurses to become HIV Care Nurses and to establish MSM/Men’s Health Clinics. Nurses and other health professionals should be sensitized before handling clients or even those inquiring to get tested. Nurses must also be updated and be rights-based in dealing with this concern.

I was fortunate to be chosen as one of those to be trained by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, the research arm of the Department of Health for MSM HIV Counseling & Facilitation Skills Training since I could use these skills to better render services to the MSM community. I also encourage other MSMs to undergo the said training so we can better reach out to the community and help.

RITM will also conduct a “Mass Testing” for MSMs for HIV this coming February 26, venue to be announced. This will be conducted for free. If you are interested, you may contact RITM at 809-7599/807-2628 to 32.

HIV Roadshow
By the way, I am doing a project called the “HIV Roadshow” in partnership with the Provincial Youth Development Council of Nueva Ecija. I was invited to become their speaker and talk about basic information about HIV, AIDS and STIs to high school & college students and after which we will be playing a film “H.I.V.”

I will be touring around the following areas: Bulacan, Pangasinan, Dagupan, La Union and Batangas. If you are interested you may contact me for details and we can also partner with you or your campus. You may e-mail me at

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