MANILA -- The Quezon City government on Wednesday boosted its investment on health as it led the distribution of reference materials on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to the Department of Education (DepEd) QC School Division Office.

QC Mayor Herbert Bautista presented the reference materials to Grade 8 students and teachers of the Quirino High School in Project 3, Quezon City.

QC Health Department officer, Dr. Verdadez Linga, said the reference materials were the outcome of several meetings with the Department of Health (DOH), during which they decided to produce materials on reproductive health and STIs, including the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which has been on the rise among youths in the 15 to 24 age bracket, and the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

"Kaya tayo nagkaroon ng HIV reference materials, kasi we found out in one of the surveys na pabata na nang pabata ang nagkakaroon ng HIV (We developed the HIV reference materials because we found out in one of the surveys that a high percentage of new HIV infections is from the younger groups),” Linga said, adding that they are also concerned with pregnant adolescents who are HIV-positive.

She said Bautista’s marching order was to come up with reference materials on reproductive health and STIs that could be incorporated in the Music, Arts, Physical Education and Health (MAPEH) subject in schools.

The learning materials - consisting of two sets, one for teachers and the other for students - teach Grade 8 students about HIV/AIDS, its symptoms, how it is transmitted, and ways to prevent it, as well as health services available, Republic Act No. 8504 on measures to prevent and control HIV/AIDS, and the HIV situation in the country.

"Magiging part na ng curriculum ang HIV 101 (HIV 101 will be part of the curriculum of QC public schools)," she said during a press briefing.

The city government spent about PHP5 million to produce the reference materials.

Linga expressed hope that the initiative would be replicated by other local government units and be adopted by DepEd for replication nationwide.

After high school students, their next target would be college students, she said, adding that their main focus however are MSMs or males having sex with males and pregnant women.

Linga said QC’s youngest HIV patient was a 17-year-old.

According to Dr. Genesis Samonte of the DOH Epidemiology Bureau’s HIV program, only about 17 percent of Filipinos have the correct knowledge on HIV prevention and transmission.

"In Metro Manila, we are around 20 to 30 percent, and that is very low. That is why we are really investing in partnering with DepEd and the city government," Samonte said.

She cited the need for an aggressive information campaign, targetting the 15 to 24 age group, where many new HIV infections occur.

This age, she said, is characterized by changes in sexual behavior due to a surge in hormones.

"Yan ‘yung age na very curious ang mga bata at nagta-try ng many things. As mentioned, (QC's youngest case of HIV) was 17 years old but that doesn't mean that we start intervention when (the child is already) 17, kasi may HIV na siya (This is the age when teenagers get very curious and try many things. As mentioned, the city’s youngest case of HIV was 17 years old but that does not mean that we start intervention when the child is already 17 when he/she already has HIV),” Samonte said.

“We have to start giving them the right information (habang) mas bata pa sila para alam nila how to protect themselves. We have to teach them how to protect themselves earlier, kasi 17 is already too late to start interventions (We have to start giving them the right information while they are still young so they would know how to protect themselves. We have to teach them earlier because 17 is already too late to start interventions)," the DOH official said.

Saying that since DepEd is not yet amenable to the distribution of condoms in schools, which the DOH fully respects, Samonte said they had sought DepEd’s support for the HIV information campaign.

"Kung maitataas po nila yun (level of awareness) to 90 percent, wagi na po tayo sa first goal (If we are able to raise the level of awareness to 90 percent, we have achieved the first goal of increasing awareness)," she explained.

The distribution of the reference materials was made as the city government conducted its HIV Summit 2017 at the Novotel in Araneta Center, Cubao, Quezon City on Wednesday.

Through the summit, the city government shared the interventions it has carried out to help achieve the target of halting HIV by 2030, such as increasing HIV testing centers that ensure confidentiality, making testing kits available, and hiring peer educators.

Meanwhile, Bautista encouraged those at risk of acquiring HIV to submit themselves for testing.

"Huwag kayong matakot. Have yourself tested. Once you have yourself tested at negative ka, tuturuan ka namin to use prophylactics (Don’t be afraid. Have yourself tested. Once you test negative, we will teach you how to use prophylactics),” he said, referring to medicine or devices that protect one from contracting diseases.

Kung di maawat yung passion, e di please be safe. (If you cannot control your passion, please be safe.) Better be safe than sorry. So if you are positive, then for the rest of your life, the QC government will sustain you, your medicine or medication," the city mayor added, noting that while the number of those getting tested is increasing, they have yet to reach their target rate.

Hopefully, we could reach this goal with this program we launched, he said.

During the summit, the coffee table book, "From Vision to Transformation: The Story of HIV in QC”, was also launched, aside from the reference materials for schools.

According to the most recent HIV/AIDS and ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP) report, 610 of 1,962 of newly reported HIV infections from July to August this year were youths aged 15 to 24 years. Of the 610 cases, 596 caught the virus through sexual contact – 386 through homosexual contact, 155 through bisexual contact, and 55 through heterosexual contact.

From January 1984 to last August, a total of 12,996 or 28 percent of the reported cases were 15-24 years old.

“From 1984 to 2002, 71 percent (179) of the cases among the youth were females. However, in 2003, there was an equal number of males and females reported. Since then, the trend shifted to male predominance. Ninety-six percent (12,476) were infected through sexual contact (1,509 male-female sex, 7,078 male-male sex, 3,889 sex with both males and females); 445 were infected through needle-sharing among IDU (injecting drug users), and one was infected through mother-to-child transmission,” the report said.

The report is prepared by the DOH’s Epidemiology Bureau. (PNA/Photo by LSJ)