Seguerra: More young people getting HIV in the Philippines

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Most Filipinos infected by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are from the youth sector, the National Youth Commission (NYC) chairperson said Tuesday morning.

"Out of 28 Filipinos living with HIV, 24 of these are the youth," NYC chair Aiza Seguerra said in a press briefing in Malacanang.

A little more than 60 percent of new infections, Seguerra added, are among 15 to 24 years old.

But earlier data from the Department of Health shows only 29 percent of newly-diagnosed cases of 9,200 in 2016 are aged 24 and below.

Read: HIV cases rise by 18% in 2016 - DOH

This, despite the free medicines for HIV.

"Libre po ang gamot sa HIV. Ika nga ay manageable na ito. Pero bakit ang dami pa ring namamatay? Bakit ang dami pa ring nai-infect? So i think ang pinakaproblema dito ay it's not actually the HIV that kills people. It's actually the stigma," Seguerra said.

[Translation: Medicines for HIV are now free. In other words, it's already manageable. But why is the death toll still rising? Why are many people still getting infected? I think the problem is not actually HIV per se, it's the stigma that kills people.]

The reason is not early engagement in sexual encounters, but more likely the fact that more youth are getting tested, he added.

Seguerra said the NYC will strengthen its anti-HIV campaign through a dialogue with parents and teachers--since open discussions on HIV and sex are still taboo in the Philippines.

"Ang information na nakukuha nila about sex, nanggagaling sa internet. Kung sa eskuwelahan man siguro ay hindi ganoon kakumpleto. Kung sa parents, ay hindi rin naibibigay, hindi po lahat," he said.

[Translation: They are getting their information from the internet. If it comes from the school, it lacks some details. The same goes with their parents.]

Public and private schools are also required to teach HIV/AIDS prevention and control. However, HIV/AIDS education should "not be used as an excuse to propagate birth control or the sale or distribution of birth control devices," according to Republic Act 8504 or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones disapproved the proposal of DOH to distribute condoms in senior high schools, saying it needs parental consent.

The NYC chair said he hopes the campaign will lead more parents to accompany their children to testing centers.

"Alam po natin sa batas ngayon, if you're under 18, you can't get tested na walang parental consent and we all know how hard it is. Tayo nga magpaalam pa lang sa magulang natin ng night out, ang hirap na. What more sasabihin mo sa magulang mo, Ma, Pa, I'm sexually active. Ma, Pa I might have HIV, please go with me," he said.

[Translation: The law says if you're under 18, you can't get tested without parental consent and we all know how hard it is. We already have a hard time asking our parents' permission for night outs, what more if you say you are sexually active--and want to be tested because you might have HIV?]

According to RA 8504, written informed consent is required prior to HIV testing for persons aged 18 and above.

Consent from parents or legal guardians are required for minors or people with mental disabilities.

Seguerra said they are taking to advocates in the Congress to amend the law and lower the age to 15.

AIDS or acquired immune deficiency syndrome is caused by HIV. As of 2016, there are 1,113 reported cases of AIDS in the Philippines.

HIV stays inside the body for life once acquired. Although there is still no cure for the virus, there are medicines that stop the virus from multiplying called antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). These drugs are being taken by 48 percent or almost 18,000 of persons living with HIV (PLHIV) in the Philippines.

The most common mode of transmission of HIV, according to the HIV/AIDS and ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP), is through sexual contact, especially male to male sex. Second is through sharing of infected needles among drug users. Lastly, women living with HIV can also spread the virus to their children during pregnancy or lactation.