HIV cases in W. Visayas rise in 2021 amid lockdown easing

Errol Dayot, Nurse I of the DOH-Western Visayas Center for Health Development, presents the latest HIV situation in the region on Wednesday, December 13. (Joseph B.A. Marzan photo)

By Joseph B.A. Marzan

Cases of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) spiked in 2021 compared to four years before, according to data bared by the Department of Health-Western Visayas Center for Health Development (DOH-WV CHD) on Monday.

The health agency believes that this may be attributed to the easing of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) restrictions.

DOH-WV CHD data indicated that 971 HIV-positive cases were logged in 2021, a 57 percent rise from 619 in 2020, the latter being a 23 percent decrease from 801 cases logged in 2019.

The highest number logged last year was in March 2021 (193), the same time when COVID restrictions in all areas of Western Visayas shifted to the Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ), which was considered as the ‘most relaxed’ status.

Based on the number of total cases alone, 971 cases last year would be the highest log in the last 5 years compared to the 2020 and 2019 figures, as well as those in 2018 (746) and 2017 (676).

This year’s figures is currently at 814 as of September 2022 according to the same data set. This is also a sudden spike 116 cases in June 2022.

In a press briefing, Nurse I Errol Dayot of the DOH-WV CHD’s HIV program pointed to the relaxing of restrictions as the most possible reason for the spike last year.

“During the pandemic, even I didn’t get out [of our house]. That is the likely scenario. Cases decreased [in 2020] because many were isolated. It is given that our highest mode of transmission is through sexual activity. Many laid low during the [height of the] pandemic because they didn’t want to get infected with COVID,” Dayot said.

“People stayed within their household, and as others put it, ‘No bookings for right now because of COVID.’ So, when restrictions lessened during 2021, that was when [establishments opened up],” he added.

The delay in reports may also be attributed to the sudden increase in HIV cases, unlike that of the almost real-time reporting of COVID cases.

Dayot said HIV case reports are sent directly from facilities to the DOH’s Epidemiology Bureau for de-duplication or data cleaning, where existing records are checked if they have already been logged or already enrolled with other facilities.

This process would take up to 2 to 3 months before fully validated reports are returned and downloaded to the regional DOH offices.

Dayot also encouraged persons who suspect that they have the virus to have themselves tested and avail of services from accredited facilities so that individuals who test positive can get the treatment at the earliest opportunity.

“We don’t want to see people detecting [HIV] late [because] they didn’t avail of treatment. They either die without a diagnosis, die with a diagnosis but too late, or die because appropriate treatment wasn’t given which could’ve been preventable if, at the earliest part, they had already been diagnosed,” he added.

In September 2022, Western Visayas logged 107 new HIV cases, contributing 8 percent to the total new additions (1,347) to the country’s log.

The region also reported 6,197 HIV cases since 1986, which include 3,907 alive on anti-retroviral therapy, 587 deaths, and 575 Overseas Filipino Workers.

Iloilo province has the most number of alive cases (1,246), followed by Iloilo City and Negros Occidental (1,086 each), Bacolod City (834), Capiz (524), Aklan (414), Antique (320), and Guimaras (100).

The number of total HIV deaths in the region also falls in a similar order, with Iloilo province having the highest (164), also followed by Iloilo City (125), Negros Occidental and Bacolod City (90 each), Capiz (35), Antique (32), Aklan (31), and Guimaras (20).