South Cotabato heightens awareness drive on HIV/AIDS

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/12 March) — Health personnel in South Cotabato province have stepped up their awareness campaign on the human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) due to the rising disease incidence of the disease in the area.

Dr. Rogelio Aturdido Jr., South Cotabato health officer, said they have adopted the HIV/AIDS campaign as among their top priorities this year due to the “alarming” increase in confirmed cases of the disease in the area in the last three years.

“Our campaign is focused on the dissemination of proper information and encouraging more residents to undergo voluntary screening and testing,” he told reporters.

In November last year, the Integrated Provincial Health Office (IPHO) confirmed 14 new cases of HIV in the province, bringing the total incidence in the last three years to 45.

The official said they have submitted potential cases of the disease to the Department of Health (DOH) in Manila for confirmatory testing and are still waiting for the official results.

John Cudilla, IPHO’s HIV/AIDS focal person, said the disease’s incidence in the province has so far reached a total of 146 in the last 10 years based on a report released recently by the DOH’s National Epidemiology Center.

He said these cases were found by DOH-accredited screening and testing centers in Metro Manila and in the cities of Iloilo, Cebu, Davao and General Santos.

A significant number involved individuals who had engaged in risky sexual behavior, among them unprotected sexual contacts among “men who were having sex with men” or MSM.

The earliest HIV/AIDs case involved a woman who tested positive in 2003 and all 10 towns and lone city in the province have recorded cases of the disease, he said.

Cudilla said the youngest HIV/AIDS victim in the province is a 20 year-old student while they have so far recorded nine fatalities due to complications caused by the disease.

Of the province’s 146 HIV/AIDS cases, he said 137 were asymptomatic or have not exhibited the disease’s typical symptoms.

“We have 32 victims who are currently undergoing treatment at the SPMC (Southern Philippines Medical Center) in Davao City,” he said in a radio interview.

The HIV victims are specifically undergoing maintenance or antiretroviral drug (ARV) treatment at the SPMC, which is the Department of Health’s designated treatment hub for HIV/AIDS victims from southern and southwestern Mindanao, he said.

ARV drug treatment mainly stops the multiplication of the infected person’s viral load and eventually prevents them from further spreading the disease.

In some countries, the use of ARV drugs have helped effectively lower the incidence of HIV infection to about one percent and eventually stabilized the detected cases.

Cudilla said the IPHO currently maintains a screening facility for HIV/AIDS that is given for free and in confidential manner.

In South Cotabato, he said the DOH has also accredited the Doctor’s Clinic and Hospital in Koronadal City and the Howard Hubbard Hospital in Polomolok town as HIV/AIDS screening and testing centers. (MindaNews)