In a bid to strengthen its endeavors on HIV-AIDS awareness and prevention, the city government continues to collaborate with partner agencies, the latest of which is with the Regional AIDS Assistance Team or RAAT during the consultative meeting held on August 13-14, 2014 at Sarangani Highlands in General Santos City.

The RAAT, composed of the Department of Health, Department of the Interior and Local Government, and Department of Social Welfare and Development, continually provides technical/logistical assistance to Local Government Units (LGU).

The meeting, hosted by the DOH 12, was attended by the representatives of the mayors of eight LGUs: Tacurong City, Kidapawan City, Koronadal City, General Santos City, Cotabato City, Glan in Sarangani, Midsayap in Cotabato and Polomolok in South Cotabato. Invited participants included the Local Health Officers, Local Government Operations Officer, Information Officers, and HIV/AIDS Program Managers.

For Tacurong, Vice Mayor Joseph Lechonsito and Sangguniang Panlungsod Committee on Health Co-Chairperson Ariel Ferdinand dela Cruz attended the meeting together with the city’s HIV/AIDS Program Manager Marlow Buenacosa and Information Officer Allan Freno.

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During the meeting, the DOH presented to the participants the report of the National Epidemiology Center (NEC) on the number of HIV/AIDS cases in Region 12. The NEC report showed that from 1984 to present, there were 259 cases recorded cases of HIV.

The report further revealed that 54 or 21 percent of the total number of cases were all recorded within the period of January to June 2014. Of the HIV cases recorded in 2014, South Cotabato posted the highest number with 164, followed by General Santos City with 78, and Cotabato Province with 35. Sultan Kudarat was in the middle of the pack with 23 number of HIV cases in the same period, followed by Cotabato City with 20, and Sarangani with 17.

Regional Program Researcher on Infectious Diseases Mohammad Zein Kali, who delivered the NEC report, said that that increasing number of HIV cases in the region is quite alarming considering the fact that in 2013 alone, 91 HIV cases have been recorded.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV is defined as a virus that attacks the body’s immune system then causes AIDS. Meanwhile, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS is a combination of symptoms and signs caused by HIV. It makes the afflicted individual susceptible to other life-threatening infections.

According to Mr.Kali, of the 54 HIV cases recorded in the region from January to June, seven of those developed to AIDS while the rest remain to be asymptomatic. According to DOH, it takes two to ten years for an afflicted person to feel the symptoms and signs of HIV.

In Sultan Kudarat, NEC already reported six HIV cases from January to June of this year. Esperanza has two HIV cases (one of the two cases already developed to AIDS); Isulan also has two; while Lambayong and President Quirino have one apiece.

Tacurong has one HIV case since 1984 but no case was reported this 2014. However, Dr. Ali Tumama, Regional STI/HIV/AIDS Program Manager of DOH, said that cases of Sexually-Transmitted Infections or STI in Tacurong are already causing an alarm. The city posted more than 1,000 STI cases in 2013 and the afflicted individuals are considered as the most vulnerable to be infected by HIV.

Atty. Rhys Muamar Guiamadel, DILG Regional Legal Officer, also discussed the legal basis for the implementation of HIV/AIDS programs putting emphasis on the provisions of Republic Act 8504 or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act. A DSWD Regional personnel also relayed to the group the department’s programs on Case Management and Psycho-Social Care & Support Services.

The two-day consultative meeting concluded in the formulation of action plans by each LGU participant aimed at strengthening efforts in prevention and control.

For the City of Tacurong, foremost in its plans is to strengthen the functionality of the Tacurong City Local AIDS Council (TACLAC) that has been institutionalized by an ordinance in 2005.

The city’s HIV/AIDS Program Manager also plans to strengthen its information and education advocacy by reaching out to all sectors using various means of communications.

Vice Mayor Lechonsito also pledged his support to the city’s HIV/AIDS prevention and control programs. He said that he and Mayor Lina Montilla are in the same page when it comes to the implementation of health-related programs.

Dr. Tumama said that the DOH will continue to provide all means of support to LGUs in their efforts to prevent the increasing number of HIV cases in the region. (Allan Freno, LGU Tacurong City Information)