Youth urged to be screened, tested for HIV/AIDS

MANILA The National Youth Commission (NYC) screened its staff on Thursday for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) to better promote the World AIDS Day message, "Know your status."

"We are in the best position to advocate for this campaign, since we are working with, serving the youth. Also, our employees understand that HIV is a youth concern, so it is really in their hearts to help the young people regarding this health issue," NYC assistant secretary and commissioner Victor del Rosario told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) in an interview.

Del Rosario confessed that he, himself, was anxious about being screened, since it was his first time to undergo such kind of test.

"Kinakabahan din ako pero (I'm also nervous but) I have to do this to serve as a role model to all our employees and the youth, following the protocol," he said, adding that the increasing number of HIV/AIDS cases among the youth alarmed NYC so they decided to be aggressive in campaigning for HIV/AIDS screening and testing.

More than 30 NYC employees responded to del Rosario's call to be screened for HIV/AIDS. They were informed of their screening results on the same day.

"It is a voluntary activity, we cannot force them to get screened," he said.

Del Rosario explained that knowing one's status with regard to HIV/AIDS is something one should not to be ashamed of because it is a protection and key to proper treatment.

"We consider HIV/AIDS in the Philippines as a youth epidemic. The new face of HIV/AIDS is the youth. We'll have an HIV awareness program in partnership with UNICEF, Project Red Ribbon, Department of Health (DOH), to capacitate Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) officials so they lead their barangays (villages), being the front-liners," he said.

On Dec. 11, NYC will have a consultation with all stakeholders to craft the module that will be used in training SK and barangay (village) officials.

Danilo Fermin, one of NYC's drivers who volunteered to be screened, told the PNA that the process is not painful at all and is very quick. He said the NYC staff understands the purpose of the screening.

Project Red Ribbon president Ico Rodolfo Johnson, meanwhile, explained to the PNA that HIV/AIDS screening is different from testing.

Project Red Ribbon is a national HIV/AIDS foundation that partners with the NYC and the DOH to educate Filipinos about the virus and the disease.

"Testing involves pre-imposed counseling and the one who administers it is a proficient HIV testing medical technician and it requires blood extraction. On the other hand, screening doesn't require counseling. There's no drawing of blood. Just pricking and within 15 minutes, it is important that you get all the info," he said.

Johnson explained that confidentiality matters during the screening, hence, he and the other people administering the test must only ask for the basic details like the name and contact number of the person being screened.

"I discuss the result alone with the person. It could be done anywhere, so long as you're in a secluded place. You can also answer the person's questions. At the same time, you can give right away the condoms and lubes as prevention for HIV," he said.

Johnson added that anyone can be trained to administer the screening unlike testing, which requires the skills of medical practitioners.

"We also encourage self-testing but we don't have guidelines yet, so we have to wait. It has dangers also. For example, you're a youth who turns out positive after self-testing and you become depressed. Where will you go to get the right information to ask for help?" he pointed out.

According to the latest DOH HIV/AIDS data registry, there were 544 new cases from January to February 2018 and the ages range from 15 to 24 years old.

A total of 941 cases due to transactional or paid sex were recorded for the first eight months of 2018, 128 of which were recorded in August alone.

The DOH said only three of the 128 cases are females, who admitted having received money for sex.

The rest were male, aged 18-60 years, mostly men having sex with men (MSM). Of the males, 62 admitted getting the virus after paid sex. It was not indicated, however, if they had it with the same or opposite gender.

Del Rosario said the rising number of HIV/AIDS cases among the youth is quite depressing, but there are things that can be done to address it.

"We want to let the youth know that being (HIV) positive is not a death sentence. Although there's no direct cure, there is treatment. If you're properly treated, you can still live a normal life." he said.

Johnson encouraged the youth living with HIV/AIDS to have a positive outlook in life, obey their doctor's advice, and undergo a continuous treatment. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency