HIV spread among high school students in South Cotabato alarms execs

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 10 March) — South Cotabato officials have expressed alarm on the spread of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which causes the dreaded Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), among high school or secondary students in the province.

Gov. Daisy Fuentes said that 134 individuals were infected by HIV/AIDS last year, seven percent higher from the 124 cases recorded in 2017.

Thirteen of the 134 who tested positive for HIV are high school students, said John Arlo Codilla, infectious diseases coordinator of the Integrated Provincial Health Office (IPHO).

“It is devastating to know that there have been cases from the younger age groups, among senior high school students in particular,” Fuentes said.

The teenage HIV victims availed of the free voluntary screening conducted by the IPHO in high schools in the province’s 10 towns and lone city in 2018 in coordination with the Department of Education (DepEd).

The HIV infection cases in the province were largely brought by unprotected casual sexual intercourse, some with multiple partners, Codilla said.

Fuentes stressed the need to continue strengthening the province’s partnership with DepEd to prevent the spread of HIV-AIDS, including other sexually transmitted diseases, among high school students.

The province established its HIV/AIDS treatment facility in 2016 to address the spread of the disease in the area.

Fuentes said the province’s HIV/AIDS Core Team (HACT) treatment facility is now considered the first local government unit (LGU)-managed fully functional HIV/AIDS clinic in the country.

The World Health Organization and the Department of Health (DOH) recognize the province’s HACT treatment facility as a good initiative in preventing the spread of the disease, she said.

Last year, Fuentes said the HACT clinic received from the DOH the “Gawad Pulang Laso” for being “the first LGU-certified and accredited HIV treatment hub in Region 12.”

At least 744 cases of HIV/AIDS have been detected in the province over the years, mostly involving males aged 25 to 34 years old, the IPHO reported.

In an earlier statement, Dr. Rogelio Aturdido, Jr., South Cotabato health officer, said “males having sex with males” is the most common method of HIV/AIDS transmission in the province.

He attributed the rise in HIV/AIDS detection rate in the province to the increasing awareness of the people about the disease due to the information campaign conducted by the government and other private groups.

Aturdido said early detection of HIV is important to facilitate immediate treatment to prevent it from developing into full-blown AIDS. (Bong Sarmiento / MindaNews)