The incidence of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) throughout Palawan during the first half of this year saw what experts have described as an “alarming” increase, which they attributed to the pandemic lockdowns.
The Pilipinas Shell Foundation Inc., (PSFI), a voluntary group working with the government on HIV-AIDs response, said there were 54 new diagnosed cases of the HIV from January to June 2020. The figure raises the number of persons in Palawan whose immune systems are compromised to 443 since 1988.
“I think we were greatly affected by the restrictions of movements, ang grupo, not just us but the social hygiene clinic kasi tuloy-tuloy naman ang facilities kaya lang talagang bumaba ang diagnosis pero despite that, meron pa rin tayong nakukuha. Medyo mataas, I think ang positivity rate sa konting nakuha na diagnosis parang we were getting something like five a month cases, that’s still alarming,” PSFI deputy executive director Marvi Trudeau said Tuesday during the celebration of World AIDS Day at the Amos Tara Center in Abad Santos Street.
Dixy Portuguesa, manager of Amos Tara Center, said that the community quarantine is one of the contributing factors on the rise of HIV cases in the province.
Portuguesa said that previously, they only have two to three reactive cases per month but surprisingly increased to five confirmed cases per month during the quarantine period.
“Yes, actually noong tiningnan namin ang record namin, average namin na reactive na positivity rate namin ay meron kaming two to three na reactive kaya lang, after nitong quarantine, ay umaabot kami ng five every month,” Portuguesa said.
“Sobrang dami, sobrang bilis ng pag-increase during noong community lockdown kasi nangyari talaga ‘yong transmission during lockdown talaga.Yong diversion ng activities nila, wala silang napag-divert’n ng ginagawa nila. Since nasa bahay lang sila tapos gumagalaw sila sa isang community lang, mas naging active sa sexual activities nila,” she said.
Based on record, the Philippines has new confirmed cases of 934 HIV positive individuals from April to June 2020. Out of the total cases of 78,559, total deaths of 4,011 were recorded from 1988 to June 2020.
Trudeau, meanwhile, said that it is unfortunate that the Philippines is now having 32 new cases a day which makes the country on top of the HIV cases around the globe.
Records show that 51 percent or 39,803 cases are from the age range of 25 to 34 years old while 29 percent or 22,585 cases were contributed by ages 15 to 24 years old.
“The Philippines is now with the highest increasing cases in the world, at 203 percent, that is an alarming situation. However, let me put that in the proper context, kahit na 203 percent ang ating new cases, the actual number of cases is still less than one percent of the total population. That makes the Philippines a low risk country in terms of HIV but the increase in cases is an alarming rate,” Trudeau said.
While Palawan’s “contribution” to the national HIV statistics has been minimal, Trudeau however urged the province to act immediately to prevent a massive increase of cases and avoid expensive interventions.
“Even sa Pilipinas, we are not contributing a lot, I think less than two percent of the total cases in the Philippines pero the fact that we are also increasing in numbers and that really is something we all should work on together. Kumbaga, habang nag-uumpisa pa lang ang problema, let’s nip it in the bud,” she said.
Continuous increase of MSM cases
According to the record provided by PSFI, 214 out of the 443 total diagnosed cases of HIV in Palawan since 1988 to June 2020 were contributed by men who are having sex with men or MSM.
Portuguesa said that most of the reactive cases recorded by Amos Tara came from MSM and transgender individuals who are members of the LGBTQ community.
Trudeau added that MSM is still the highest key affected population of HIV cases across the country.
“Sa buong Pilipinas, sila pa rin ang may pinakamataas na key affected population, I think it’s still over 90 percent affected pero we are growing in other sectors, other numbers, so huwag natin pabayaan ito. Hindi naman natin pinagbabawal ang sex but at least do it safe,” she said.
She added that they will have differentiated testing and treatment to conduct in 2021 along with new preventive measures which effectivity has been tested during the pilot test.
“Maraming mga preventive measure na new and it will be implemented next year, nagawa na ang pilot and nakita natin na it works. Kunyare ‘yong pagbibigay ng PrEP (Pre-Exposure) Prophylaxis,” she said.
“If you are a person with PLHIV and you are having a person who has no HIV, you want to protect that partner so he can take the PrEP,” she added.
Trudeau stressed that they also want to remove the stigma towards people visiting centers and social hygiene clinics; and expressed her hope that time will come that the stigma will also be removed from the HIV itself.
Even if it is not HIV, people should always go for check up if they have something within themselves so they would know their status, she added.
Celebration of World AIDS Day
Portuguesa said that along with the celebration of the annual World AIDS Day, they have partnered with around 20 candidates of Puerto Princesa Queen of Queens (PPQQ) to reach their key affected population.
“Since nagri-represent sila sa every barangay, sila ‘yong pwede namin maging partner para i-tap din ‘yong key affected population like ‘yong MSM and trans,” she said.
Candidates underwent seminar and forum about HIV on the celebration of World AIDS Day on Tuesday. Coronation for the next Ms. PPQQ will be on December 20, Portuguesa said.