Random Image Display on Page Reload

HIV-AIDS among Filipino teenagers raises alarm bells

THE Philippines registered a 78 percent increase in HIV-AIDS cases among teenagers ages 15 to 17 years old from 2019 to 2023. This alarming data drove the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) to call on our country to ramp up its HIV-AIDS response.

Unicef said it recognizes the good work of the Department of Health in preventing the spread of the infection. These include approaches such as pre-exposure prophylaxis, decentralized HIV testing, and the provision of new antiretroviral drugs that improve treatment outcomes and compliance.

People living with HIV and members of civil society support groups form a ribbon through their mobile phones during the International Aids Candlelight Memorial on Monday, May 22, 2023. PHOTO BY JOHN ORVEN VERDOTEPeople living with HIV and members of civil society support groups form a ribbon through their mobile phones during the International Aids Candlelight Memorial on Monday, May 22, 2023. PHOTO BY JOHN ORVEN VERDOTE

People living with HIV and members of civil society support groups form a ribbon through their mobile phones during the International Aids Candlelight Memorial on Monday, May 22, 2023. PHOTO BY JOHN ORVEN VERDOTE

However, procurement and supply issues have made it difficult for people living with HIV to get access to treatment. The supply of free retroviral drugs from foreign NGOs is drying up and the government, which is now just rising from the quagmire of the Covid-10 pandemic, has many other similarly urgent health issues confronting it.

Unicef also suggested amending the proxy consent protocol so that young people can get tested without the consent of their parents. “This means providing unrestricted access to testing provides lifesaving opportunities as they are immediately enrolled in treatment and proper care,” Unicef said.

Indeed, testing without parental consent has been lowered to 15 years old. But other services such as treatment require their consent. This barrier could prevent other young People Living with HIV (PLHIV) to seek treatment.

Unicef suggested that the Philippine AIDS program needs coherence in addressing the issues of young people in terms of age, as well as the development of appropriate, gender-responsive information and uptake of services.

The Committee on Children on HIV and AIDS, the Council for the Welfare of Children, and the Philippine National AIDS Council need to put their heads together to engage young people in developing a program responsive to their needs. This can be done through communications messaging that appeals to the language of the young, and through the social media platforms or apps that they use.

UNAIDS country director Dr. Louie Ocampo stressed that no one should die from AIDS-related causes due to the availability of advanced treatment regimens. However, many PLHIV, especially young people, are not aware that treatment is possible, or are not on treatment — or started treatment late when the virus had already begun to destroy their immune systems.

“These deaths are unacceptable. We call on the government to test more and treat more. And do it fast by addressing barriers to accessing HIV services by eliminating stigma and discrimination; institutionalizing comprehensive sexuality education; expanding innovative approaches to deliver HIV services to reach more key populations; increasing investments in prevention and social support services; and [having] strong political will to cover the most vulnerable and most stigmatized sectors in society,” Ocampo said.

A total of 110,736 HIV cases have been recorded nationwide with 6,383 reported deaths since 1984. Fully 90 percent of the new infections were recorded among young males who had sex with males. Should the trend persist, the number of HIV cases will balloon to over 330,000 by 2030.

As the latest data indicate, more needs to be done to spread awareness of HIV among young people. A study from the University of the Philippines indicates that youth awareness of HIV/AIDS has dropped.

Based on the 2021 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study (YAFS5), 76 percent of young Filipinos ages 15 to 24 had heard of HIV and/or AIDS, a 19-percentage point drop from 1994 when awareness stood at 95 percent.

Only 19 percent, or 1 in 5 youths, had comprehensive knowledge of HIV. More than half, or 52 percent, incorrectly believed that a person can get HIV by sharing food with someone who is infected. About 2 in 5, on the other hand, did not believe that a healthy-looking person can have HIV.

Some 35 percent of young people also did not believe that a person can reduce the risk of getting HIV infection by using a condom during sex, contrary to multiple evidence that consistent condom use is effective against HIV transmission. Data show a low level of condom use during high-risk sexual activities, such as transactional and casual sex, among male youth.

Information gaps can stall efforts to arrest the number of HIV infections in the Philippines, which has the fastest-growing HIV epidemic in the Asia-Pacific region. It has been said that the youth is the hope of the nation. Where would such hope reside when more of them are wasted by this virus that still has no cure?

*****
Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

Check Also

Should mandatory ROTC be revived?

THOSE pushing for the revival of the Reserve Officers Training Corps or ROTC anchor their …