By Jason B. Neola
NAGA CITY --- City Councilor Jose “Sonny” C. Rañola, in his privilege speech last Tuesday, raised the alarm on the rising cases of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases in this city, which he said “show no sign of decreasing or slowing down even among young boys and girls.”
Rañola, who co-chairs the Naga City Health Board with Mayor John G. Bongat, said that among the cities and provinces in Bicol, Naga and Camarines Sur had the highest HIV/AIDS cases from 1984 to 2016 and new cases were reported in 2016 (17 and 54 cases, respectively) making both of them on top of the list.
He said that the people being infected are getting younger, with ages ranging from 15 to 24, which is also true in other provinces of the Bicol Region. Those infected with STD also involve younger patients – from 15 to 34 years.
On STD cases, there were a total of 3 males and one female who were tested positive for syphilis in 2016, according to records at the Naga City Social Hygiene Clinic. Still, according to the same report, 17 males and 10 females, or a total of 26 persons were tested positive for gonorrhea. Moreover, 3 females and one male, or a total of 4 persons were tested positive for Hepatitis B during the same 12-month period last year.
“I am here not to push the panic button. I am here not only as a doctor, but as a concerned citizen who would like to serve this warning against a deadly disease that never stops to stare us in the face,” says Rañola who recommended that children should be taught to avoid risky behavior and the HIV testing age should also be lowered to allow minors to avail of the service.
In related development, the city councilor is drafting an ordinance which seeks to create a task force that will monitor and conduct surveillance on individuals, especially children or minors, suspected to be engaged in sex trade activities.
He said the creation and mobilization of the task force would strengthen the city government’s campaign against sexually-related activities as it would aggressively perform the tasks to identify at risk individuals vulnerable to STDs, provide them with assistance and access for HIV/AIDS screening and/or vaginal smear, and enroll them to a series of seminars/lectures on STD prevention and control.
If a suspect is a minor (at ages that range from 18 years old and below), the task force will inform his/her parents about the involvement of their child in sexually-related activities, and turn them over to the City Social Welfare and Development (CSWDO) or, if of legal age, turn them over to the Naga City Police Office for filing of appropriate cases.
The proposed composition of the task force: the City Health Officer, the head of the City Social Welfare and Development Office, the chief of the Naga City Police Office, the city Legal Officer and a representative from a non-government organization, preferably catering to family, women and children sectors.
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). By damaging one’s immune system, HIV interferes with human body’s ability to fight the organisms that cause the disease.
In the Philippines, around 25 Filipinos get diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) daily, according to the latest report released by the Department of Health (DOH). The numbers are on upward trend. From only one person getting infected daily in 2008 , the number rose to 17 persons per day in 2014.
Rañola, who is also the chair of Sangguniang Panlungsod’s Committee on Health, said that HIV is a sexually transmitted infection. It can also be spread by contact with infected blood or from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breast-feeding. Without medication, it may take years before HIV weakens one’s immune system to the point that one finally acquires AIDS.
“There’s no cure for HIV/AIDS, but there are medications that can dramatically slow down the progression of the disease. These drugs have reduced AIDS deaths in many developed nations. But HIV continues to decimate populations in Africa, Haiti and parts of Asia, including the Philippines, which has been cited by the World Health Organization to have the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the world,” he said.
While Bicol may not be among the regions in the country with alarmingly high incidence of HIV cases where the National Capital Region has 39%, Calabarzon has 13%, Central Luzon has 11%, and Central Visayas that include Cebu has 11% compared to our 2%, Camarines Sur and Naga, according to the DOH Regional Office based in Legazpi City have the highest reported cases of HIV/AIDS from 1984 to 2016.
In 2016 alone, Camarines Sur recorded 54 cases while Naga had 17 cases. Cumulatively – from 1984 to 2016 – Camarines Sur had 192 cases while Naga had 71 cases. “Yes, these figures may be low compared to other regions, but the prospect of multiplying rapidly is always there if we loosen our guards down, or fail to do enough to control or stop them from further spreading”, Rañola warned.
Surely, the numbers are bad which could even get worse, considering that the statistics, especially for HIV/AIDS, are based only on who get tested and not on the entire population of the city or province, he added.
As one expert, looking at the statistics, said: “This is an underestimate of people who actually have HIV because some refuse to be tested or do not know where and how to get tested, especially in urban areas.”
Latest data by the DOH in Manila show that the HIV/AIDS virus is transmitted mainly on 4 ways:
1. Male to female sex
2. Male to male sex and sex with both males and females
3. Sharing of infected needles
4. Mother-to-child transmission
City Health Office
“While our City Health Office, thru the stewardship of City Health Officer Vito ‘Butch’ Borja, is trying its best to curb or control the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, they need everyone’s help to deliver their jobs more effectively and teach people of their role in fighting the menace, as well as the city government’s initiatives of parallel legislation and groundworks,” Rañola said in his speech.
Regarding the small number of people who returned to the clinic for their HIV confirmation results, Rañola urged the city government’s counselors to communicate better and build rapport with reactive patients so that they would always go back to the clinic for closer examination, consultation and dialogue. It has been noted, based on report by our CHO, that of the 266 persons (males and female) that were screened for HIV in 2016, only 9 of them (who are all males) returned to the clinic for their confirmation results.
Rañola said that it is fortunate that in Naga such efforts are complemented by legislation against discrimination and top-level multi-sectoral efforts. Naga City has a gender fairness ordinance, peer education ordinance, and an HIV/AIDS Council. “Perhaps we need to push more. Build stronger coordination among all stakeholders and strengthen more our crusade and political will against the deadly virus and how to respond to problems facing the community and probable patients, he added.
“We should inform our people that anyone can get free HIV testing in our social hygiene clinic and that ARV treatments are shouldered by the government. We should not tire in teaching our people to practice safe sex and encourage them to use condom for safer measure,” he said.
No less than the National Youth Commission (NYC) has expressed fear that the HIV/AIDS spread is becoming a worsening “youth epidemic” in our country. It said that: “The HIV epidemic in our country has a new face and it is the face of a young person.”
Citing official statistics, the NYC confirmed that 62 percent of new HIV cases in the country in 2016 were among young people between 15 and 24 years old.
An NYC Commissioner stated clearly that: “Out of the 29 Filipinos who get infected every day in the Philippines, more than half or 19 are 15 to 24 years old. Twenty-five out of the 29 are 15 to 30 years old.”
“We should be doubling our efforts now – by every stakeholder – including families and the academe before the problem become even more tragic for many of our people, including the younger ones that may prove costlier and more difficult to handle on the part of the government,” Rañola concluded.