May 242011

We have all heard about HIV/AIDS. We have discussed it in school. We have seen the slogans and banners in hospitals. We have watched the advertisements on television. But do we really know what it means for us? Here in Palawan, a province of the Philippines, many people don’t. As a nurse and reproductive health educator I meet such people every day and try to dispel myths and misinformation.

So last April, when I got the chance to to attend a HIV-AIDS Educational Awareness Workshop, I jumped at the opportunity. The event was sponsored by Peace Corps Philippines with speakers from USAID, UNAIDS, PAFPI (Positive Action Foundation Philippines, Inc.) and Babae Plus, PNAC (Philippine National AIDS Council) and Bernardo Health Center and Social Hygiene Clinic.

During the first day of training, Dr. Recardo J. Mateo – HIV and other diseases specialist — restated the basic HIV information. We then learned many activities to explain the tranmission of HIV. This was particularly helpful to me as I teach health education classes, in which many of the participants cannot read.

I was also informed of the current statistics of HIV in the Philippines.

• The Philippines is one of only 7 countries with increasing HIV cases;
• 72 out of 80 provinces have reported cases of HIV;
• From 1984-2010 there were 6,015 reported cases. In 2010 alone there were 1,500 new cases;
• In 2000 there was one case reported every 3 days. In 2010 there were 6 new cases a day;
• In 2015 9,800 new cases per year are predicted;
• The most “at risk” age group is 20-29 year olds both male and female;

The behaviors that put Filipinos most at risk are:

• Having unprotected sex with more than one partner,
• Having sexual intercourse early (average age here is 15),
• Using injectable drugs,
• Males engaging in anal sex with other males

I was surprised to learn that the Philippines was the first country in the world to enact a law that provides free antiretroviral therapy (a combination of multiple drug to slow down the reproduction of the virus in the body). The government currently has 32 public voluntarily counseling and testing centers established to prevent the spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic .*

I believe the first step in fighting HIV would be to adjust our attitudes towards HIV. We need to stop ignoring the issue and face up to it. If we don’t, it will soon be another serious problem one that our country can do without. At present we have statistics only for reported cases; how about those who aren’t submitting themeselves for blood tests but are at high risk of acquiring the disease?

We have to be responsible in our actions. Let’s start by spreading the correct information. Health awareness and advocacy is not just merely talking, but providing knowledge that will hopefully result in behavioral change.

Protect yourself and know your status by accessing basic and comprehensive prevention services and submitting yourself for testing and treatment.

*R.A 8504 was enacted on February 13, 1998