Resistance to testing, prevention worsens HIV situation in PH

SUBIC, Zambales (MindaNews / 15 July) – The tendency of Filipinos to shy away from undergoing tests and engage in behavior that increases the risk of infection has led to the spike in the number of Human Immunodeficiency Virus in the country, a health official said Thursday.

“People don’t come for tests until it’s too late, when their CD4 count is already low. By then, it’s too late to start ART (Anti-Retroviral Treatment),” said Dr. Genesis May Samonte, program manager of the Epidemiology Bureau of the Department of Health.

CD4 (cluster of differentiation 4) is a glycoprotein found on the surface of immune cells such as T helper cells, monocytes, macrophages, and dendritic cells.

Speaking during a media seminar here on reporting HIV and AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), Samonte cited the fear of being stigmatized if found positive of HIV as the main reason why people are reluctant to undergo tests.

She said the issue of age is a factor too because minors can’t undergo tests without the consent of their parents or guardians.

She proposed either lowering the age of consent [for HIV tests] or allowing doctors to serve as proxy guardians.

Samonte noted that the age bracket of people with HIV has become younger.

From 2001-2005, it was 35-49, but from 2006-2016, it was 25-34, she said.

She cited that the 15-24 year age group increased from 25% in 2006-2010 to 28% in 2011-2016.

The official cited the low use of condoms as another factor for the increasing number of HIV cases.

She said a survey found that 77-83% of young people know that condoms protect people from HIV, but 0% showed correct condom use skills.

Surveys done by DOH in 2009, 2013 and 2015 showed that condom use among the respondents was only 31%, 36% and 44%, respectively.

Fifty-four percent of the respondents cited unavailability as the reason for not using condom, while 21% said they didn’t like using it.

Samonte admitted they have difficulty in crafting the message for the key population or those at highest risk of infection.

“Honestly, we don’t yet know what the best messaging is. Mga tao iyan eh,” she said.

“There are also cultural factors to consider. What works in Cebu won’t necessarily work in Cagayan de Oro. There’s no ‘one size fits all’.”

Sex education

Dr. Rosanna Ditangco , head of the AIDS Research Group of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, urged for sex education in schools to help arrest the spread of HIV.

She, however, lamented that sex education in schools is equated to condom use.

She also pushed for increased coverage of tests, same-day test results, and early access to treatment.