Puerto Princesa commits to end HIV epidemic by 2030

PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines – Puerto Princesa has teamed up with the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) to arrest the rising HIV cases in the city. 

Mayor Lucilo Bayron signed the Paris Declaration to end the AIDS epidemic on Monday, September 17, committing to end the epidemic in his city by 2030. 

“Let us be aggressive in our campaign to end this epidemic. We must fight this stigma. Ang Puerto Princesa mataas ang HIV huwag tayong pumunta diyan (The city has a high HIV prevalence, let us not go there),” Bayron said.

“Ten years ago, we just had one case here,” said Regina Villapa, city coordinator on HIV-AIDS.

“Now we have 198 enrolled in our treatment hub and 139 come from Puerto Princesa,” she added. (READ: 'Stop the spread of HIV')

Cumulatively, there were more than 280 cases in the city and most of them occurred in the past 5 years. Most of the cases, like those in the rest of the country, are among the men who have sex with men and the transgenders. 

Palawan has the highest cases of HIV infection in the Mimaropa region. She said that they already had 40 deaths from complications due to HIV in the province. And the transmission case so far in 2018 is higher than last year. (READ: New, aggressive HIV strain can worsen epidemic in PH – scientist)

HIV/AIDS AWARENESS PROGRAM SPOKESPERSON.Chi Vallido of Forum for Population and Development pins a Purple Ribbon Partner on Miss Universe Philippines 2018 Catriona Gray, an HIV/AIDS program spokesperson.Photo by Mau Victa

HIV/AIDS AWARENESS PROGRAM SPOKESPERSON.Chi Vallido of Forum for Population and Development pins a Purple Ribbon Partner on Miss Universe Philippines 2018 Catriona Gray, an HIV/AIDS program spokesperson.

Photo by Mau Victa

Targets

UNAIDS Philippines Director Lui Ocampo, who was born in the province, said that the project with Puerto Princesa seeks to fast-track the elimination of AIDS through the set of commitments known as the 90-90-90 targets. 

Explaining the targets, Ocampo explained that "90% of those living with HIV should know their status" but in the Philippines, "only 67% do."  

“Ninety percent diagnosed with HIV should be undergoing anti-retroviral treatment. Currently, only 35% of those diagnosed in the country are undergoing ARV. This is caused by the stigma and discrimination caused by having it and the lack of available health facilities with ARV treatment,” Ocampo said. 

“And 90% of those undergoing ARV should have suppressed viral loads,” he added. 

Ocampo said that the best strategy for Puerto Princesa is to have more community-based HIV screening. (READ: PH has 'fastest growing' HIV epidemic in Asia-Pacific – DOH)

“If they are ashamed or stigmatized, the community should come to them,” he said. 

He also said the program also needs sustained funding and also strong political will to demand for good results.

Together with  Miss Universe Philippines 2018 Catriona Gray, who was also present to witness the signing, Ocampo debunked the myth that tourism has contributed to the the high HIV infection in the city.

“That’s a misconception. Most of the transmission is among the local,’ said Ocampo. “The foreign tourists are more careful and they most often use condoms.” 

“Most of the cases are among the youth in the 15 to 24 age bracket,” he said. 

Gray, for her part, said: “Let us stop putting labels. Let us not condemn the youth. Instead, we should teach them to protect themselves."

“This is not just the LGBT problem. It affects all of us. We should on education and from there, once we understand the problem, we can support each other and break the stigma,” she added.  – Rappler.com