Program vs HIV rolled out: exec

THE DEPARTMENT of Health is slowly rolling out a new HIV testing program that is discreet and subtle, doing away with stigma.

With blood centers being stationed throughout key cities in the country, DOH secretary Janette Garin said that they use this platform to bring HIV testing discreetly.

“It’s a blood donation program that’s mobile,” she said.

She added that the key feature of this mobile facility is to conduct HIV, hepatitis B and C testing to those who volunteer to donate their blood.

This is a subtle way to get people to be tested, without stigma or gossip.

This program is slowly being rolled out in the country and will be operational in the city on August 2016. Link to HIV care and support will be given should blood donors be diagnosed as HIV positive.

Some of those vulnerable to HIV are those who do not identify as gay–but instead call themselves as men having sex with other men. Risky and unprotected sex are still rampant, Reproductive Health and Wellness Center chief Jordana Ramiterre said.

Garin acknowledged that the rapid increase of HIV cases in the country is proportional to the aggressive HIV testing campaigns being mobilized throughout vulnerable communities.

“The numbers that we have is rising but that is because we have been aggressive about having people tested for free,” she said during her visit to Davao City earlier this week.

Social hygiene clinics also play a crucial factor to HIV testing because this is where people go to for testing.

The decentralization of these facilities to the regions (there are currently 42 in the country) makes testing more accessible to people more than ever.

She emphasized that HIV treatment is still free and will continue to be so in the next administration–more so with the potential expansion of PhilHealth.

“The HIV patients that we have now are not new,” Garin said, adding that they have long had HIV but only got themselves tested when their case progressed to AIDS.

The department’s Know Your Status campaign, Garin said, reinforces lifestyle modification for those key populations vulnerable to HIV. This allows them to protect their partners and to encourage them to know their status so that as early as possible, they can be given treatment.

“HIV isn’t deadly,” Garin said. “AIDS is.”

Last April, RHWC started to  provide initial treatments to persons diagnosed with HIV.

This makes RHWC a satellite of the region’s treatment hub that is the Southern Philippines Medical Center.

Ramiterre said that her department started giving treatments (anti-retroviral drugs) last February to a couple of patients who fall under “uncomplicated cases,” or those who do not have serious infection and do not need hospital admission.

“We can treat them on an outpatient basis,” she said, mentioning that the personnel from RHWC are capable of giving these services because they are trained with primary HIV care.

Ramiterre said that in RHWC, at least 200 persons walk in per month to have HIV tests. On some months, this number reaches to 500. At least 15-20 of these persons are diagnosed HIV positive.

By being a satellite treatment hub, RHWC is able to give immediate care without losing track of patients after HIV testing. This is a common phenomena where patients stray, do not return, and do not seek medical attention after being tested.

From January to November in 2015, 290 cases have been recorded in Davao City. All the 21 HIV cases involve men: nine are aged 15-21, another nine are aged 25-34 and the other three are aged 35-49.

The total number of HIV cases in Davao City in 2014 was 1,071.

“Don’t wait for signs and symptoms to catch up,” she said, referring to the opportunistic infections that may enter the body when it’s weakened by HIV.

HIV is transmitted by having unprotected sex (anal, vaginal) with someone who has the virus and by sharing needles/syringes used to prepare injection drugs. According to Aids.gov, Certain body fluids from an HIV-infected person can transmit HIV. These body fluids are: blood, semen (cum), pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, breast milk.

“These body fluids must come into contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into your bloodstream (by a needle or syringe) for transmission to possibly occur,” an article in the website said.

HIV is not transmitted by air or water, insects (mosquitoes), saliva, sweat, tears, casual physical contact (hugging, shaking hands, sharing eating utensils), and toilet seats, although these common misconceptions still exist leading to the stigma.

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