To provide information and access to HIV screening services in Palawan, Ugat ng Kalusugan / Roots of Health (ROH), in partnership with the Palawan Provincial Department of Health, the Puerto Princesa Social Hygiene Clinic, the Aids Society of the Philippines (ASP), Municipal Health Offices of Palawan, and Manan Trust is conducting a five-day “Community-based Screening (CBS) Training of Trainers.”
The aim is to capacitate Palawan LGUs to not only be able to provide HIV screenings to residents, but also to be able to draw on a pool of local CBS trainers.
ROH Executive Director, Amina Evangelista Swanepoel said, “Puerto Princesa has one of the highest rates of HIV incidence in the Philippines. But that may be the tip of the iceberg, because screening services in Palawan municipalities are currently limited. Most people have to come to Puerto Princesa for testing. We want to ensure that Palawenos can find out their HIV status wherever in the province they live, so are capacitating colleagues all over Palawan.”
The training comes at an opportune time. The Implementing Rules and Regulations on the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act have just been signed. The act aims to effectively address the growing HIV epidemic in the country by forging stronger alliances among government, the private sector, civil society organizations, faith-based organizations, media, and all stakeholders.
Amina added, “We cannot just sit back and wait for the Department of Health to fully implement the HIV/AIDS law, nor can we rely on the Palawan provincial government as they have not allocated ample funds for the reproductive health budget. There needs to be more access to education and testing services for HIV. The government also needs to do more to promote the use of condoms in the battle against HIV. We must take on the challenge and work with partners who want to curb the spread of HIV in the Philippines.”
Currently 80% of the country’s HIV program costs are covered by the Global Fund, which operates in 38 sites. But the project will end in 2020, so in the next two years the Philippine government will need to take charge of the HIV response.
The training is being conducted for volunteer peer educators to become Community-based screeners and also for provincial participants who are already CBS screeners to become CBS trainers themselves.
Meyrick Graces, HIV and Adolescent Coordinator for the Palawan Provincial Health Office is excited to be able to offer more HIV services beyond Puerto Princesa. “Palawan is one of the high ranking areas when it comes to HIV in the Philippines, and we’re seeing younger and younger people testing positive. This training will strengthen the capacity of Palawan’s health providers in providing HIV screening throughout the province.”
Norry Fe-An Torrible-Payopelin, a Medical Technologist from the Palawan Provincial Health Office hopes that with HIV services now being offered in far-flung municipalities, young people will avail of the services. “The number of HIV cases are rising. So we need more health care providers to provide services. Now that we’ll have more screeners, we will let our communities know so that they can access the testing and treatment.”
Mark Anthony D. Tabangay, Sangguniang Kabataan Federation President / Ex-officio Councilor and ROH Youth Advocate from San Vicente is one of the young people being trained in community based screening for HIV. He said, “It is really important to have this training in order to reduce the number of HIV cases in Palawan. We can only do that by giving people, especially youth, the knowledge they need about what HIV is and how it is transmitted, so they can avoid risky and unsafe sexual behaviors. It’s also important to have early detection for anyone who is HIV positive so they can be given treatment. It’s great to have trained and trusted CBS Motivators in our municipalities in order to be reliable sources of information about HIV, and to increase testing services.”
World statistics show that 25% of people living with HIV do not know that they have the virus. While there are no Philippines-specific statistics on this, based on global HIV trends, it is safe to assume that a huge proportion of the people living with HIV do not know they have the virus.
By the end of the week Palawan will have a pool of 14 CBS trainers who can conduct trainings in various municipalities. 24 Volunteers will have been trained to conduct HIV screenings from Agutaya, Brooke’s Point, Dumaran, Narra, Roxas, San Vicente and Taytay.
People wanting to get tested can contact their Municipal Health Office, the Provincial Health Office, or the Bantay HIV Palawan Facebook Page.