City solon warns vs ‘fast and furious’ rise of HIV, AIDS cases


By Jason B. Neola

NAGA CITY --- City Councilor Jose “Sonny” C. Rañola, in his privilege speech delivered during the Sangguniang Panlungsod regular sesion last December 4, this year, raised the alarm on the rising cases of HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases here, which he said have “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 have the highest HIV/AIDS cases from 1984 to 2018 that went to 321 after having registered 49 cases within a period of 6 months from January to June, this year.

He said that the people getting infected are getting younger, with ages ranging from 15 to 24, which is also true in the Bicol Region. Those infected with STD also involve younger patients – from 15 to 34 years.

It can be observed from the records made available by the Epidemiology Bureau of the Department of Health and the Naga City Social Hygiene Clinic that the increasing cases of HIV and AIDS have no sign of declining or slowing down. Moreover, even sexually transmissible infections (STIs) cases among young boys and girls also continue in upward trend.

From January to September 2018, Gonorrhea has chalked up 64 cases of individuals with the predominant age of 18 and 19; syphilis, 9 cases with the predominant age of19 and 23; hepatitis B, 7 cases with the predominant age of 20.

Within the same period (January-September 2018), the Social Hygiene Clinic was able to register 16 cases of HIV/AIDS, all males with ages ranging from 17 to 43 years old.

The human immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV) attacks and destroys one’s immune system compromising the body’s ability to fight disease-causing organisms and thus, leading to potentially life-threatening condition that we call Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

HIV infection is transmitted via 3 major modes: unprotected sexual contact, exposure to infected blood and blood products and from an infected mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. Without anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment, it may take years before HIV weakens one’s immune system to the point that it loses its capacity to fight off infections. By then, an individual may suffer from one or a combination of AIDS-related infections or illnesses.

“There’s no cure for HIV/AIDS, but there are medications – ARV or antiretroviral – that can dramatically slow down or stop the progression of HIV infection to AIDS. These drugs have reduced and prevented deaths due to AIDS-related diseases.

HIV continues to decimate populations in Africa, Haiti and parts of Asia, including the Philippines.

Based on the latest report released by the Epidemiology Bureau of the Department of Health, about 32 Filipinos get diagnosed with HIV daily; that is, from only 2 cases per day in 2009, 7 per day in 2011, 13 per day in 2013 and 22 per day in 2015.

Ironically, many of our neighbors in Asia have seen new cases of HIV to have decreased, while the Philippines, has been cited by the World Health Organization to have the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the world.

While Bicol may not be among the regions in the country with alarmingly high incidence of HIV cases where the National Capitol Region has 41%, Calabarzon has 15%, Central Luzon has 11%, and Central Visayas that include Cebu has 9% compared to the Bicol Region’s 3%, 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 2018.

In June, 2018, Camarines Sur recorded a total of 321 cases out of 868 in the whole Bicol region. In February, 2018, Naga had 95 confirmed cases. These figures may be low compared to other regions, but the prospect of these numbers multiplying rapidly is always there if we loosen our guards down, or fail to do enough to control or stop HIV infections from further spreading.

On the other STIs, a total of 9 males tested reactive for syphilis from January to September of this year, according to records at the Naga City Social Hygiene Clinic. (In 2017, a female with a history of 3 miscarriages and a stillbirth also tested reactive for syphilis.) Still, according to the same report, 45 males and 19 females, or a total of 64 individuals were diagnosed with gonorrhea. Moreover, 4 females and 3 males, or a total of 7 persons tested reactive for Hepatitis B during the same reporting period.

The numbers could only be the “tip of the iceberg”, considering that the statistics, especially for HIV, are based only on who got tested and were confirmed. They do not include those who unknowingly got infected and who may be continually infecting others as well.

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.”

Latest data by the Epidemiology Bureau of DOH in Manila show that the predominant modes of HIV transmission are:

Male to male sex and bisexuality (sex with both males and females) – 84%

Male to female sex - 11%

Sharing of infected needles – 4%

Infected mother-to-child – 0.3%

As a doctor myself and chief of a hospital, I would recommend that everyone should be educated and taught to avoid risky behavior. Those who had engaged in risky behavior should be encouraged to undergo HIV testing for early detection and linkage to treatment and care, thereby arresting progression of HIV infection to AIDS. This measure is life-saving and people living with HIV (PLHIVs) are given the opportunity to live a long life and achieve their dreams and aspirations.

With the prevalence of the epidemic set at a “fast and furious” rate, we should be doubling, and even tripling or quadrupling, our efforts in coordination with every stakeholder – including families, the academe and all sectors of society so that we can overtake and rise above this problem, stop it in its track and thereby, avoid its tragic consequences to society and our economy.

Surely, the numbers are bad which could even get worse, considering that the statistics, especially for HIV and AIDS, are based only on who get tested and not on the entire population of the city or province.

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.

“With the prevalence of the epidemic set at a “fast and furious” rate, we should be doubling, or even tripling or quadrupling our efforts now in coordination with every stakeholder – including families and the academe and all sectors of society so that we can overtake and rise above this problem, stop it in its track and thereby, avoid its tragic consequences to society and our economy,” Rañola concluded.