HIV cases in Surigao Norte up almost 50%

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/11 October)—Health officials have expressed alarm over the rising number of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cases in Surigao del Norte.

Jessica L. Nepomuceno, program coordinator of the Sexually Transmitted Infections /HIV/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) program of the City Health Office, said there are two new additional HIV patients discovered this year.

The total HIV cases in the province have now reached 14, almost double from last year’s eight.

Of the 2014 figure, nine came from Surigao City; two from Dapa and one from Pilar, both towns located in Siargao Island; one from Sison; and one from Gigaquit.

Nepomuceno said most of the HIV patients, 93 percent, were males.

She said there could still be unreported HIV cases as testing is not mandatory as well as due to the stigma put on people with such disease.

Under Republic Act 8504 or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, Article III, Section 16 prohibits compulsory HIV testing and “is deemed unlawful” if forced.

“This is actually one of the setbacks since we really can’t force anyone to undertake HIV testing,” Nepomuceno told MindaNews yesterday.

Surigao City has four HIV-positive cases from the period 1995 to July 2012, documents showed.

Dr. Romulo Ybiernas, former HIV/AIDS coordinator of the city health office, told MindaNews that the city government allegedly failed to allocate funds for awareness drive against the spread of the disease.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals projected that by 2015, HIV/AIDS cases should have been on the decline.

Ybiernas said this could only be realized if there is a pro-active participation from the local government and also the public in combatting the spread of the disease by raising their awareness.

He said the lack of knowledge on the disease, which is still pervasive in a small community like Surigao, is a major factor why cases continue to rise.

Dr. Emmanuel Plandano, chief of the City Health Office, declined to give a comment. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)