DOH: More millennials diagnosed with HIV

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 26) ­— The Department of Health (DOH) reported that in April 2017, 629 persons, most of whom are millennials, were diagnosed with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

More than 80 percent or 513 of those diagnosed with the virus belong to the 15 to 34 age group.

READ: More young people getting HIV in the Philippines — Seguerra

Out of the 609 who acquired the virus through sexual contact, 343 or more than half are men who have sex with men.

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Meanwhile, 18 individuals were reported to have contracted the virus through the sharing of infected needles. There were also two reported cases of mother-to-child transmission.

In June 2017, 17 people have so far died of HIV-related complications, bringing the total number of HIV-related deaths this year to 172.

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

In a statement, Aangat Tayo Party-list Representative Neil Abayon said this data is alarming.

"These figures are clear proof our country needs better education of the Filipino youth on how they care for their sexual health," he said.

HIV attacks the body's immune system which helps in fighting off infections. If left untreated, those with the virus will be vulnerable to opportunistic infections and infection-related cancers.

Over time, when the body's immune system is severely weakened, the person develops Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS.

The virus can be acquired through the exchange of certain bodily fluids such blood, semen, and vaginal secretions. It is not present in saliva and sweat.

A person may contract HIV through unprotected sexual intercourse, sharing of infected needles, and mother-to-child transmission.

The virus stays inside the body for life once acquired. Although there is still no cure for HIV, there are medicines which stop the virus from multiplying called antiretroviral drugs (ARVs).

Campaigning against HIV

Data provided by the DOH only involves those who got tested, and the numbers may go higher.

The Red Whistle, an HIV prevention advocacy group, said many people are still having difficulty getting themselves tested.

Under the law, those 18 years old and below need parental consent before they get tested for HIV.

"The younger your age, kailangan mo ng [you need] parental consent," said The Red Whistle Ambassador Anthony Falcon. "Isa pa iyan sa hindrance kung bakit [That's one of the hindrances as to why] we don't know the status of these people."

READ: Lower age of consent for HIV/AIDS testing — Aiza Seguerra

The Red Whistle co-founder Niccolo Cosme said many young ones do not have the courage to ask for consent from their parents so they could get tested.

"Can you imagine if you're 18 below and you ask your parents, hey can I get this signed?" he said. "Ang hirap ata noon na parang [It's quite difficult because it's like], "Are you having sex?""

Cosme believes sex education is necessary to inform the youth of the health risks they are facing now.

"It is important because you want to desensitize the youth that it's okay to talk about sex, it's okay if you're engaging in it," he said. "But (they need to know) there are these options and there are these risks that you are facing right now."

Falcon believes it is important for parents to talk to their children about sex and sexually transmitted diseases.

"It should be a parent's responsibility to educate their child or children about sex," he said. "It's okay to talk about sex."

"Kaya pababa rin ng pababa yung age ng apektado kasi  [That's why the age of those who get the virus is getting lower because] it's taboo to talk about sex and to go to a next level about HIV, it's even more hard."

Falcon and Cosme also call on the public not to be prejudicial towards people living with HIV.

"Ang daming naka-attach na stigma na malandi ka, promiscuous ka, na you deserve it [There are many stigmas attached like you're promiscuous and that you deserve it]," Falcon said.

"If you are aware of how you have it or how you transmit it, I don't think you'll have that kind of mindset," he said.

Abayon said an HIV and AIDS prevention campaign should be intensified, not just in schools, but also in the workplace and even at the barangay level.

There are more than 50 DOH-designated treatment facilities in the country which provide HIV care. Some offer it for free but some paid tests can cost a little more than ₱1,000.

According to Republic Act 8504 or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, all HIV testing facilities are required to conduct free pre- and post-test counselling.

READ: Modern HIV drugs can add 10 years to life expectancy, study says

CNN Philippines' Digital Producers Chad de Guzman, Yvette Morales, and VJ Bacungan contributed to this report.