DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 Aug) — Stigma towards persons with HIV/AIDS and the key population vulnerable to the virus remains to be a primary concern in curbing the ever increasing number of reported cases of HIV and AIDS, Senator Teofisto Guingona III said at the regionwide HIV Summit.
Health experts and organizations gathered at The Royal Mandaya hotel for the Summit organized by the Department of Health (DOH) on August 28.
Guingona, currently chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, also pointed out that aside from this and the already potentially debilitating effects of HIV/AIDS, indifference also plagues the situation.
“HIV has pricked and pierced not just the human body’s immune system but more so that part of us called the human conscience,” he said in his keynote address at the Summit.
“I’m shocked at our ability to be indifferent,” he continued. “I am told that the biggest challenge that is facing us in connection with HIV/AIDS is awareness, but I beg to differ.”
“How can it be a problem of awareness?” he asked. “We know the disease
exists, we know how it spreads and how it is contracted and how it kills. What we probably have not realized is that the disease spreaders faster in an atmosphere of denial, indifference, and prejudice,” he said.
He said many of us deny that it can happen to us, and that “we are indifferent because we are not the host.”
“We let our prejudices take over because the disease is most present among other members of the community,” he said.
HIV is transmitted by having unprotected sex (anal, vaginal) with someone who has the virus and by sharing needles/syringes used to prepare injection drugs. According to Aids.gov, certain body fluids from an HIV-infected person can transmit HIV. These body fluids are: blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, breast milk.
“These body fluids must come into contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into your bloodstream (by a needle or syringe) for transmission to possibly occur,” an article in the website said.
HIV is not transmitted by air or water, insects (mosquitoes), saliva, sweat, tears, casual physical contact (hugging, shaking hands, sharing eating utensils), and toilet seats, although these common misconceptions still exist leading to the stigma.
Guingona said that testing must be governed by conscience and human compassion—that these two should be present on the part of the implementing government agencies and policy makers.
He noted that, to avoid stigma among the people living with HIV (PLHIV) and to encourage more people to get tested, we should get rid of hypocrisy and prejudice, apathy and indifference.
“We have to see the challenge before us with eyes that have no blinders,” he said adding that the stakeholders should find solutions that are creative rather than restrictive.
The senator pledged to support all efforts of DOH and its partners to halt the spread of HIV through various programs—from increasing capacity of physical structures, empowering health personnel, and increasing public awareness.
Health regional director Dr. Abdullah B. Dumama Jr. said the number of HIV cases continuously rises. On the national, level at least 22 HIV cases are reported daily.
In the Davao Region, from January to June 2015, 240 cases were reported; Dumama translated this to about 40 cases per month.
City Health Office chief Josephine Villafuerte said 180 of the 240 are from Davao City.
The most affected in the population are those who are in the 25 to 34 year-old age bracket. There is also a 13-year old girl who was diagnosed as HIV positive.
Dumama said that the department is intensifying its efforts on HIV prevention following the drastic increase of reported cases from 31 in May to 62 in June this year.
The treatment hubs are also eyed to be expanded and acquisition of CD4 machines (equipment used to check immune system) are underway. Training of peer counselors and educators, people in charge of reaching out to HIV’s key population, are likewise being conducted.
There are currently 60 counselors in the city and this number is expected to increase in the coming months. (Jesse Pizarro Boga / MindaNews)