Group asks gov’t to implement comprehensive sex education
MANILA, Philippines — Recent reports of adolescents contracting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) have prompted a women’s rights advocacy group to call for implementing comprehensive sexual education (CSE) to help children and teenagers avoid sexually transmitted diseases.
In a statement on Friday, Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) said that the Department of Health (DOH) report released last March 12 — that 86 of the 1,454 new HIV cases reported in January were children and teenagers — should be a signal for the government to implement a CSE.
WGNRR said that the DOH data worried sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) advocates because most of these 86 cases were acquired through sexual contact — with only six children infected through mother-to-child transmission.
“This latest report reminds us again of the worrying trend and the need for urgent action from the government and other stakeholders. Let this be a distress signal to implement Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) determinedly and strongly,” WGNRR executive director Marevic Parcon said.
“We also call for robust, rights-based, community-led, and accessible testing, treatment, care, and support programs for HIV and AIDS for young people, women, and gender-diverse people,” she added.
WGNRR said that CSE is already a part of Republic Act No. 10354 or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 — noting that it only needs to be implemented.
“Advocates call on prioritizing and fully implementing CSE as mandated by the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012. As a vital element of young people’s SRHR, CSE is essential in the prevention, treatment, and care of HIV, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections,” WGNRR said.
“An enabling environment in schools and communities, especially in poor and rural areas, should be created to ensure young people have access to age and development-appropriate, rights-based, and evidence-based information. When they have the appropriate information, young people develop the life skills to make informed decisions about their bodies and lives, such as having safe sex and healthy relationships that recognize consent and gender equality,” they added.
According to DOH, 79 adolescents ranged from 10 to 19 years old. Of the 1,454 newly reported infections, 422 were discovered in the advanced stage, while 39 deaths were reported.
READ: 86 new HIV-infected patients are teens, kids
HIV infection leads to a condition where a body’s immune system breaks down or weakens so it can no longer fight mild illnesses. While HIV is not yet curable, there have been success stories where patients undergo antiretroviral therapy or ART — preventing HIV infection from progressing to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which is frequently fatal.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said that the symptoms of HIV infection vary depending on the stage or severity, with many people in the initial stages of infection unaware that they contracted the virus. In the first few weeks after infection, patients may experience an influenza-like illness, including fever, headache, rash, or sore throat.
Further progression of the ailment would yield symptoms like lymph nodes, weight loss or wasting, fever, diarrhea, and cough. HIV can be transmitted, WHO said, through “the exchange of a variety of body fluids from infected people, such as blood, breast milk, semen, and vaginal secretions”
“Without treatment, they could also develop severe illnesses such as tuberculosis (TB), cryptococcal meningitis, severe bacterial infections, and cancers such as lymphomas and Kaposi’s sarcoma,” WHO said.
DOH and WHO clarified separately that acquiring HIV is not a death sentence anymore, as there are HIV-positive patients who can maintain everyday lives due to medication without fear that their ailment will progress into AIDS. However, people need to get tested, especially those at higher risk.
“Individuals cannot become infected through ordinary day-to-day contacts such as kissing, hugging, shaking hands, or sharing personal objects, food, or water.
It is important to note that people with HIV taking ART and are virally suppressed do not transmit HIV to their sexual partners,” WHO said.
“Early access to ART and support to remain on treatment is therefore critical not only to improve the health of people with HIV but also to prevent HIV transmission,” it added.
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