Life behind the numbers: The current state of HIV in Cebu

By: King Anthony Perez May 04,2018 - 11:26 PM

Dr. Van Philip Baton, regional medical coordinator of the Department of Health (DOH) AIDS/HIV, STI Control and Prevention Program, explains to members of the press the government’s programs and initiatives in dealing with HIV and AIDS in the region.


With 52,280 reported cases in the Philippines since 1984, several government and community-led initiatives have been made to make people more aware of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS-related causes in the country.

In Cebu City last April 29, a benefit concert was held at an upscale hotel to celebrate stories of survival among persons living with HIV and AIDS (PLHIV/AIDS).

The event called “The Songs of Hope: Story of Survival” featured several local artists who provided a platform for the public to hear real stories of PLHIV/AIDS.

The concert sent the message out that having the virus is not a death sentence as there are people willing to help.

Stage director Arnel Pahang offered his services for free after learning about the continuous rise of HIV cases in Cebu.

Proceeds of the concert, will be given to Balay Malingkawasnon, Visayas’ first private HIV and AIDS treatment facility certified by the Department of Health (DOH), to help shoulder the medical expenses of indigent HIV patients and construct more admission facilities.

Pahang lamented that while the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) has institutionalized the Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment Package (OHAT), not all HIV patients can avail of the program.

The government’s health insurance arm provides a P30,000-benefit package for members and their qualified dependents who have HIV or AIDS, as well as members under PhilHealth’s sponsored, Indigent and Overseas Program.

The monetary assistance is divided quarterly for beneficiaries at P7,500 per quarter.

Christian Lapay, coordinator of Balay Malingkawasnon, shows to reporters the available medications in the private treatment hub.

The package covers medication, laboratory examinations and professional fees.

But the requirements set by the health insurance institution delays the treatment of HIV patients, observed Pahang.

“If you are not qualified, then you cannot access the funds and the disease is killing you everyday. It is sad. It is unfortunate,” he said.

To remain silent on the HIV issue, Pahang added, will silently kill and affect the victims, as well as the public.

“It (issue of HIV) cuts across the whole spectrum of the social strata,” said Pahang.

Housing the patients

Balay Malingkawasnon coordinator Christian Lapay explained that without government aid, HIV patients will have to spend around P13,500 per month to sustain their medications.

The treatment hub, which is open even on weekends, has accommodated around 120 regular patients since its operation began in January 2017.

Operated by Visayas Community Medical Center (VCMC), the three-room Balay Malingkawasnon sits at the ground floor of the hospital building and provides free HIV screening and basic anti-retroviral (ARV) medications for HIV patients.

“We make ourselves transparent. From the time the funds are downloaded from PhilHealth, we have a separate trust fund for the intended clients,” Lapay explained.

However, the facility does not provide free laboratory examinations and medicines for advanced stages of HIV.

Balay Malingkawasnon is one of only six HIV treatment hubs in Central Visayas.

The figure is short of the ideal 10 hubs for the region in proportion to the prospective number of HIV cases by the end of the year.

Dr. Van Philip Baton, regional medical coordinator for National AIDS/HIV, STI Control and Prevention Program, expects that a total of 5,000 HIV/AIDS cases will be recorded in the region this year.

Each treatment hub, Baton said, should be able to accommodate 500 patients.

Cebu, which registered the highest number of HIV/AIDS recorded cases in the region at 4,340 has four treatment hubs, namely: Balay Malingkawasnon and Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) in Cebu City; Eversley Child Sanitarium and General Hospital in Mandaue City; and Talisay District Hospital in Talisay City.

Cebu also has three primary care facilities (the only ones in the region) which can address the needs of HIV patients.

While treatment hubs have admitting capabilities, primary care facilities only provide basic services, outpatient care and treatment.

“More of our patients are still on the infection stage. It is not yet AIDS which means that more patients need outpatient care,” Baton explained .

“Kulang ra jud siya (It is not enough). We have still a lot to do,” he said adding that treatment facilities and care centers should be strategically placed in the future.

HIV is a societal issue

Mico (not his real name), a recipient of PhilHealth’s OHAT program, has been living with HIV for almost 6 years.

He told Cebu Daily News that even though he gets help from government for his medications, making himself healthy by eating a balanced diet and hitting the gym regularly was costly considering his limited financial resources.

Mico, 34, has been with William, a 27-year-old pharmacy student since 2015 after the two met online in a dating site for men who like other men.

Despite Mico’s medical condition, they decided to enter into a serodiscordant or mixed-status relationship, where one partner is infected by HIV and the other is not.

“Lisud sya. Mag-agad ra ko tagaan sa iyang family, mag-agad sad ko sa akong allowance (It’s difficult. I just depend on what his family gives me and also my allowance).”

Love, patience and constant communication, they said, are the reasons why they have stayed together through the odds.

“Kung ganahan mo magdugay, naa juy mu-adjust (If you want the relationship to last, someone should adjust),” explained William.

“Treat every day as the last day. I do not know until when I will be here,” Mico said.
Meanwhile, Jack (real name withheld) and his boyfriend of four years, both HIV positive, do not see any reason for their relationship to end.
“We’re a lot stronger since we support each other,” said Jack.
Jack manages a treatment facility for HIV and AIDS. He believes that the best advocate is a person living with the same condition.
“You know how they feel, what they’re going to do. I can properly explain the effects of the medication because that is how I feel too,” said Jack.
As for the health department, Baton admits that government can only do so much — prevent the risk of infection and treat AIDS-related diseases.
It cannot, on its own, end the stigma attached to HIV and AIDS nor eliminate the discrimination against people living with the disease even from within their families.
The key to improve the current state of HIV in the region is awareness, said Baton while disclosing that this year, DOH-7 has allocated P2.4 million for HIV-related training programs.
“It is not only the disease that is killing people, it is also the atmosphere of apathy,” Pahang, for his part, said.

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TAGS: behind, current, HIV in Cebu, life, numbers, state

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