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Controlling the HIV-AIDS epidemic

Since 2007, there has been an upswing in the number of HIV cases nationwide. More than 70 percent of the HIV patients are male, and over 20 percent are in the 25-29 age group. In 2007, there was only an average of 25 HIV positive cases reported per month. But now, these cases have increased dramatically to around 400 cases per month. This scenario has raised fears of a full-blown epidemic, which could paralyze our health care system.

According to former Health Secretary Dr. Alberto Romualdez, AIDS patients require a steady supply of expensive medicines and they can live a long time. Because of this, the disease can put a tremendous burden on our health care system. Our country cannot afford to have a full-blown AIDS epidemic on top of the usual diseases like tuberculosis and dengue.

Another problematic issue is the fact that some HIV positive mothers will pass the HIV virus on to their children. In the next few years, we may have to contend with a growing number of HIV positive children. Let’s learn the basic facts about HIV-AIDS.

What is HIV and AIDS?

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the disease that results from damage to one’s immune system caused by a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. The disease starts as an HIV infection, wherein the patient still feels healthy. However, as symptoms occur, the disease is now called AIDS.

This virus is transmitted through sexual contact, blood transfusion, and pregnancy (from mother to child). Because the virus attacks the immune system, various infections, which normally would not affect healthy individuals, would afflict the AIDS patient.

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How does the virus harm our bodies?

The human body is protected by its immune system, mainly by white blood cells. These white blood cells or lymphocytes fight intruders in the body.

In the case of HIV, these strong viruses attack the white blood cells and render them ineffective. HIV also uses the cells to make more of themselves, making it harder for the body to fight back. With the defenses weakened, other diseases, like tuberculosis, can creep in to overwhelm the patient.

Until now, there is still no vaccine or cure for AIDS. Treatment with anti-retroviral medications (ARVs) can only help stabilize the patient’s symptoms. It is sad to note that despite medical advances, many patients still deteriorate and die.

Rules of prevention

There are three ways to transmit the HIV virus (Code word: SNN).

 • Sex. HIV can be transmitted by having unprotected sex (vaginal, anal or oral) with someone who is HIV positive. Unprotected sex accounts for 80 percent of all cases worldwide.

•Needles. Blood transfusion and sharing needles can easily transmit the HIV virus.

Nursing mothers, and mother to child. HIV can be passed on during childbirth and through breastfeeding.

The Department of Health has come up with five rules for prevention:

1.  Abstinence from sex.

2. Be faithful to your partner. Have a monogamous relationship.

3. Careful in sex. Use condom protection if needed. Anal sex is more dangerous than normal sexual intercourse.

4. Don’t share needles (especially among drug users).

5. Educate yourselves about HIV-AIDS.

Take note: HIV positive patients should not be discriminated. HIV can only be transmitted through a person’s blood, semen, vaginal fluid, and breast milk. On the other hand, the HIV virus cannot be transmitted by 1) kissing, 2) casual contacts or handshake, 3) sharing living quarters, and 4) eating or drinking with an infected person.

See accompanying table to learn about the risks of getting HIV. The higher the number at the right hand column, the greater is the chance of contracting HIV. For example, there is a 90% chance of getting HIV with a blood transfusion from an HIV positive person. Childbirth has a 25% chance of passing the virus from mother to child. Anal sex is also more dangerous (because of mucosal and skin tear during sex) as compared to vaginal sex or oral sex.

Who should be tested for HIV?

Check out the seven questions below:

1. Have you had unprotected sex with someone who has had multiple sex partners?

2. Have you had unprotected sex with someone without knowing for sure if he or she doesn’t have HIV?

3.  Have you paid a man or woman to have sex with you?

4. If you’re a man, have you had unprotected sex with another man?

5. Have you had a sexually transmitted disease like gonorrhea, genital herpes or syphilis? Having a sexually transmitted disease makes it easier to get HIV.

6. Have you used injectable prohibited drugs or shared needles?

7. Have you had a blood transfusion from an unreliable source?

If you answered “yes” to any one of these questions, then you should have an HIV test, just to be safe.

The Department of Health encourages you to visit your nearest HIV testing center (Social Hygiene Clinic) for an HIV test and counseling. Don’t be afraid. Your test result will be strictly confidential. Only you will know your HIV status.

If it turns out that you are positive for HIV, then there will be someone there to help you. If you are negative, then you can still learn the safety tips to avoid getting the virus.

The Department of Health, the Philippine National AIDS Council, and various NGOs have been campaigning to increase public awareness on HIV-AIDS. Let us learn how to protect ourselves from this disease.

source: Philippine Star

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