Social Media and the Philippine HIV/AIDS Epidemic

It was in 2010 when Dr. Edsel Salvana published his Acta Medica journal article on the Philippine HIV/AIDS Epidemic: A Call to Arms.  He concluded that “prevention and awareness campaigns remain by far potentially the most effective means of controlling HIV/AIDS in the Philippines.”

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The 6th millennium development goal (MDG) of the United Nation targets to have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS and to achieve, by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it. Like the MDG 5 of reducing maternal mortality rate, MDG 6 is also unlikely to be met. In fact, HIV in the Philippines used to be described as “low and slow” however today – “fast and furious” seems the more apt description. According to Unicef, the Philippines is one of only seven countries globally where the number of new HIV cases has increased by over 25 per cent from 2001 to 2009.

Based on the March 2015 AIDS registry by the National Epidemiology Center (NEC) of the Department of Health (DOH), there have been 24,376 reported cases of HIV from January 1984 to March 2015. The present scenario is that 21 individuals are newly diagnosed with HIV in the Philippines each day, with 56% belonging to the 25-34 year old group while 26% were youth aged 15-24 years old.

transmission

There is a rapid increase in reported HIV cases since the first reported case in 1984. The main modes of transmission include unprotected male to male sex, male-female sex and intravenous drug use.  According to regional distribution of the newly diagnosed HIV cases, majority come from the National Capital Region, with Region IVA and Region VII trailing 2nd and 3rd, respectively. Cebu province is in the Central Visayas, region VII.  Because the HIV epidemic in the Philippines is more concentrated among key populations with specific risk factors, such as unprotected male to male sex, transactional sex and intravenous drug use, the DOH identified the 6 cities with concentrated epidemics at the critical 5% prevalence rate.

cebu city highest

Cebu City is ranked number one in terms of prevalence of HIV among all cities in the Philippines. Cebu City reported an HIV prevalence rate of 7.7%, ahead of Manila and Quezon City which logged 6.7% and 6.6%, respectively. Compared with epidemiologic data from the rest of the country, the face of HIV in Cebu City is that 70% of positive cases are transmitted through IV drug use and 30% through sexual transmission.

Increasing at an alarming rate, HIV in the Philippines has blown to huge proportions that it has become a priority public health concern. With Cebu City also being a hotspot for prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV, the city health provides free HIV counselling and testing to pregnant women during antenatal care. A non-government organization called Cebu Plus Inc provides treatment, care and support to people living with HIV/AIDS in Cebu.  To further improve HIV counselling and testing, Dr. Jon Fontilla, a physician and an HIV advocate plotted on googlemaps the HIV treatment hubs and testing centers in the Philippines.

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There are many other notable advocates working to stop the HIV epidemic to achieve the goal of GETTING TO ZERO: zero new infections, zero AIDS-related deaths and zero discrimination.  Like all other sexually transmitted infections, the primary strategy for HIV prevention is ABCD: A for ABSTINENCE, advising the youth to delay sexual initiation until they are ready.  B – BE FAITHFUL to your one partner.  C – correct and consistent use of CONDOMS.  D – DIAGNOSIS through voluntary HIV counselling and testing so that appropriate anti-retroviral DRUGS can be given.  By diagnosing early, intervention can be given early enough to prevent HIV transmission and progression to AIDS. E – EDUCATE other on HIV/AIDS and prevention of its transmission.

With new evidence hinting that the strain of HIV in the Philippines has changed to a more potentially aggressive and more transmissible variant, Dr. Edcel Salvana says “We need to stay on top of this virus by starting everyone on treatment (which prevents it from mutating further and decreases the risk of transmitting it to others), educating the public on protecting themselves from infection, and supporting research that is looking for an effective vaccine and a cure.”

Social media provides an avenue for high risk groups to share their experiences and encourage others to testing. Social media connects people who are hard to reach, such as sex workers and intravenous drug users, around HIV prevention, testing, treatment and research information.  Social media forms support groups for people living with HIV/AIDS and recruits people for HIV-related activities, focus groups or clinical trials.

Join us this week as we discuss the different faces of HIV and brainstorm on potential strategies to address the Philippine HIV epidemic on #HealthXPH Saturday, June13, 2015 at 9PM MLA / 9AM EST:

T1. How can social media reliably increase awareness on HIV?

T2. How can social media be used to increase rates of voluntary HIV counselling and testing, specially among high-risk groups?

T3. How can social media help improve adherence to anti-retroviral drug therapy?

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