GenSan ups HIV testing campaign as cases rise

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 3 Dec) – Health authorities here have stepped their campaign for voluntary human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) testing among residents in the wake of the rising cases of infection in the area in the last several months.

Dr. Mely Lastimoso, coordinator of the City Integrated Health Services Office’s (CIHSO) Social Hygiene Clinic, said over the weekend that the confirmed HIV cases in the city since January has so far reached 19, bringing the total number of locally-detected infections to 47.

Since the third week of October, the confirmed incidence of HIV, the disease that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome or AIDS, has increased by three cases, she said.

Lastimoso said the latest case, which was only detected last week, involved a teenage male who initially turned out positive of suspected HIV 2 strain, which is considered relatively uncommon and was known to be concentrated in West Africa as cited by a medical reference website.

She said they submitted the screened samples to the Department of Health’s STD (sexually-transmitted diseases)/AIDS Cooperative Central Laboratory in Manila for confirmatory tests.

“The key here is to detect these cases early so we can provide those infected with proper treatment and eventually stop them from spreading it or infecting other people,” Lastimoso said.

The treatment, which is provided free by the government, involves regular doses of antiretroviral drugs, she said.

“(Antiretroviral drugs) mainly stop the multiplication of viral load. When the infected persons have low virus load in the body, they would not transfer them to other people. So this means the spread of HIV is stopped,” she explained.

Lastimoso said that in some countries, the use of antiretroviral drugs has helped effectively lower the incidence of HIV infection to about one percent and eventually stabilized the detected cases.

“No new infections were detected in some countries because of the maintenance treatment and that is also our goal here,” she said.

Lastimoso reiterated the importance of knowing each individual’s HIV status in order to achieve such goal.

“Let’s have ourselves tested for HIV so the government will know who are actually infected and should be covered by its allocation for the maintenance treatment,” she said.

The city government has been offering free HIV/AIDS screening, which are done free and confidential, through the Social Hygiene Clinic, which is based at the CIHSO building inside the city hospital complex.

As part of the city’s commemoration of the World AIDS Day, which is observed every Dec. 1, Lastimoso said they will launch a series of activities that will highlight their voluntary HIV testing campaign and the free screening and tests for the disease.

In October, the CIHSO reported that the total number of confirmed HIV cases in the city already reached 44, of which 15 had already developed into AIDS.

In late June, the number of AIDS/HIV cases in the city only totaled 32 and with only two new cases recorded by the CIHSO then.

From May 2011 until last June, the confirmed HIV/AIDS cases in the city only increased by four and with the two other cases detected last April.

Most of the confirmed HIV/AIDS in the city were found among male professionals who were engaged in “risky sexual behaviors.”

They include gays, bisexuals, men who have sex with men or MSMs and others who engage in unprotected sex and with multiple partners. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)