■ Hanna C. Lacsamana
The Department of Health has recorded 99 cases of HIV/AIDS in the Cordillera from January to August this year, 18 of which were listed in August alone.
In the state of regional address for the region’s HIV and AIDS status on Dec. 7 by DOH-Cordillera Director Rio Magpantay as presented by Regional HIV Coordinator Darwin Babon, the latest cases have brought the region’s total HIV/AIDS cases from 1984 up to present to 1,034.
Based on the report, the 18 new HIV cases in the region for August is 38 percent higher than the 13 cases recorded in August 2022.
Out of the total, eight were recorded in Benguet, six in Baguio City, and one each in Abra, Ifugao, Kalinga, and Mountain Province; 16 of which are male and two are female.
There were no cases for Apayao on said month.
From January to August 2023, there were a total of 99 cases: 44 in Baguio, 18 in Abra, 17 in Benguet, eight in Kalinga, five in Apayao, four in Mountain Province, and three in Ifugao.
The report also stated out of the region’s 1,034 total cases since 1984, there were 61 HIV-related deaths, and seven of them were from January to August this year.
Babon said what is alarming is that seven of the new cases are from the 15 to 24 years age bracket, and therefore there is a need to intensify the campaign to prevent HIV/AIDS, especially among junior and senior high schools and college students.
Also, three of the cases were overseas Filipino workers.
Babon said the case trend has also been changing.
From 2005 to 2010, he said most of the HIV/AIDS cases in the region were OFWs, but this changed after 2010, when most cases had been men having sex with men.
“Now we are again seeing a slight increase in OFWs acquiring the disease, that is why it is time to intensify the campaign by strengthening the advocacy, especially during on-boarding of OFWs or what we call PDOS or pre-departure orientation seminar on HIV/AIDS,” Babon said.
During the commemoration of the World AIDS Day of Dec. 1 which focused on “Empowering Filipino communities to lead the HIV and AIDS response”, Babon said the DOH-Cordillera gathered community-based organizations, advocates, government line agency partners, and local government units to give these sectoral partners the opportunity to take the lead in the campaign to end stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV/AIDS.
For 2024, Babon said DOH will work on increasing demand generation activities for HIV combination prevention strategies like condom and lubricant use, HIV testing services and HIV pre-prophylaxis – the medicine given to high risk individuals who underwent HIV test but with negative result to maintain such status to prevent infection – in various settings like schools, workplaces, and communities.
The DOH will also train and capacitate more HIV counsellors, peer educators, and community mobilizers in the LGU and community, expand HIV facility treatment hubs, and rapid HIV diagnostic algorithm confirmatory sites in the region, which means if a facility already has a treatment hub, it should also be a confirmatory site so that if initial screening finds a reactive result, it can be confirmed immediately and linked at once to treatment.
The agency will also be strengthening partnerships with community-based organizations and development partners; as well as its monitoring and evaluation by piloting in the region next year a community-led monitoring system for HIV program.