Imperatives

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EVERY day, as many as 32 people are diagnosed with HIV-AIDS and yet, not enough is being done to address the epidemic. Worse, a majority of these new infection affects those 25 to 39 years old, considered to be the most productive years.

The Department of Health (DOH) said the Philippines had one of the fastest growing HIV epidemics in the world with 57,134 cases recorded from January 1984 to July 2018. Majority of new infections were likely to be teenagers and young adults between 15 to 24 years old.

Without adequate information and proper treatment, as well as psycho-social support, lives are unnecessarily wasted.

HIV is primarily spread by unprotected sex; having multiple sex partners or presence of other sexually transmitted diseases which can increase the risk of infection and the sharing of needles and syringes.

Consider this: more than 23% of Filipino adolescents have engaged in premarital sex, with 42% of them reporting consensual sex, 32.5% not wanting it but going along with it, and 2% being forced into the sexual encounter (Raymundo & Cruz, 2004).

Nearly 40 percent of young men have sex with another person other than their primary partner, and over 20% of males 20–24 years old have visited a commercial sex worker. Three-fourths of sexually active young adults were found not currently using any method of contraception, regardless of marital status and 69 percent of sexually active young men between the ages of 15–24 have never used condoms.

It is high time to focus on the reproductive health needs of adolescents and youth, an area which has long been overlooked simply because of the collective denial on the need for them to access reproductive health services, including HIV testing, treatment and education.

In a setting where heterosexual transmission is steadily increasing, and with young adults found to be increasingly at-risk for HIV and AIDS, there may be a need to mainstream condom use as the most effective strategy to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV.

However, over and above this is the need to craft a health intervention that would take into consideration the distinct sexual behavior and identity of young people.

Among young people, sexual debut is something that they do not share with parents and if they have sexually transmitted diseases, they only get ostracized and stigmatized.

This can only be done in an open and safe space for young people to not only access counseling services, HIV and AIDS tests, and treatment but to also take the lead in responding to their reproductive health needs. I had the chance to observe this kind of intervention in Ethiopia where young people work and engage with health workers in providing peer counseling and generate demand for appropriate health services and information on their reproductive health.

At the core is the right of young people to access reproductive health information and services and in enabling them to communicate and demand this right and make the government accountable to meet this demand. This is crucial in our culture where people do not just usually seek treatment when it is too late, but that many still think that they are not vulnerable to HIV and AIDS.

Young people’s participation in crafting a responsive reproductive health program is imperative to save lives. Email comments to roledan@gmail.com (1st of three parts)

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