With the goal of reaching out to more people living with human immunodeficiency virus (PLHIV) in the Cordillera, the Department of Health-Cordillera said more healthcare facilities will soon open in the various provinces.
DOH-Cordillera HIV-Sexually Transmitted Diseases Program Coordinator Darwin Babon said provincial facilities are expected to open by year end: the Far North Luzon General Hospital Public Health Unit in Luna, Apayao and the La Paz Regional Health Unit in La Paz, Abra.
Babon said they are also waiting for the documents from the Kalinga Provincial Hospital in Tabuk, Kalinga; Luis Hora Memorial Regional Hospital in Bauko, Mountain Province; and the Benguet General Hospital to add to the growing list of HIV treatment hubs in the region.
“This is towards our goal of having at least one HIV treatment facility per province,” Babon said.
In the Cordillera, the existing HIV treatment facilities are Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center, Baguio Health Services Office-RHWC (Reproductive Health and Wellness Center), and the Notre Dame De Chartres Hospital.
Also, he said only BGHMC has the Certified rHIVda (Rapid HIV Diagnostic Algorithm) Confirmatory Laboratory in the region. He said prior to the establishment of this, clients undergoing HIV testing in the region needed to wait for one to two months for the result, as the specimen needed to be brought to San Lazaro Hospital in Manila for confirmatory testing.
Now, he said it takes a day for the clients to have their results with the facility in the region’s capital.
“Before, the waiting time for the specimen to go to Manila from Baguio City was quite risky, more often it became the reason for the patient not to come back and get the result and get the necessary treatment,” he said.
He said the DOH-CAR is also aiming to expand to at least one certified rHIVda confirmatory laboratory per province to bring HIV treatment and facilities closer to the community.
The expansion of treatment hubs is in response to the rising cases of HIV in the region. Based on the DOH-CAR data, there are 1,008 cases as of June 2023, where 936 are male and 72 are female. This data is cumulative since the first recorded case in 1984 in the region.
Also, 81 percent of municipalities or cities or 62 out of the 77, have recorded HIV cases as of June 2023. The age range of those mostly affected is at 25 to 28 years old. He said the 25 to 34-year-old age group is the most affected population in the region.
The areas with recorded cases in the Cordillera are Baguio City with 60 percent; La Trinidad, Benguet with seven percent; Bangued, Abra with four percent; Tabuk City, Kalinga with three percent and Itogon, Benguet with 2.5 percent.
Also, there are already 61 deaths recorded due to HIV. There were two deaths this June and seven recorded from January to June this year.
From the recorded cases in the region, there are 309 or 32.62 percent who are lost to follow-up or those who did not continue to receive treatment after getting initial treatment.
“This is quite a number, so isa ito sa tinututukan natin ngayon,” he said.
Babon stressed that HIV treatment is free and is available in the various HIV treatment hubs as provided by the national government.
He said there is no local procurement when it comes to antiretroviral drugs and other drugs needed by PLHIVs, but the drugs are downloaded to the regional hubs, based on the number of PLHIVs currently enrolled in each facility.
Babon said it is the goal of the region to increase testing and to look for the affected populations for them to know their HIV status and to link them to available and free treatments.
The Cordillera is joining the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS goal of 95-95-95 where 95 percent of the PLHIVs know their HIV status, and the 95 percent should be linked to lifesaving antiretroviral treatment, and 95 percent are virally suppressed meaning the treatment is working to reduce their viral load. Once the viral load becomes undetected, the virus will not be transmitted.
Here are the contact of the HIV Treatment Facilities in the region in Baguio City: Notre Dame de Chartres Hospital, St. Aloysius Gonzaga (HACT Clinic) with contact 0917-708-5433, Baguio City Health Services Office, Baguio HSO-RHWC with contact 0985-251-5968, Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center, and the Balai Treatment Hub with contact 0917-113-2184. – Ofelia C. Empian