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Rough Cuts | Preventing rise in HIV affliction

About a year ago we took up as subject in this column the issue about the growing number of people tested with HIV infection. We surmised that because of that discovery by health authorities a more serious effort could have already been launched by the government, both local and national, to control the affliction.

Based on the number of cases disclosed in time for the observation of the World’s AIDS Day last December 1, it appears that whatever programs that were initiated to control HIV in Davao City somehow, failed.

Imagine the 2,902 people reported to have been tested positive with HIV all in the city! It is actually in the upper percentage level of the 3,476 figure reported with HIV in the entire Davao Region.

But of course the Reproductive Health and Wellness Center (RHWC) headed by Dr. Jordana Ramiterre is right in justifying the hike in number of HIV-afflicted persons. Not all of them are residents of the city and that they could have only gone here to ensure their anonymity. Besides, Davao undoubtedly has the more sophisticated testing centers accredited by the Department of Health.

Moreover, the city is economically vibrant. And this development has drawn thousands of people from neighboring cities and provinces, and even from the Visayas and Luzon. There are also a number of foreigners who are working on big ticket projects of the government who have been here in the country, and lately in Davao City, for as long as three to five years

We personally discovered their presence in Davao City last Wednesday when two men in their late 20s or early 30s on board an SUV stopped by the gate of our farm residence and offered to sell some fire proof canvass. They were in uniform with markings we could not read much more understand.

They spoke Tagalog but their intonation sounds more Thai or Japanese. The canvass (luna) – and there were plenty of them — that measures roughly 6 x 10 meters was offered at give-away price.

We were shocked to hear them saying that they have to dispose of the items because they lack money for their food requirements. Worst, the two foreigners told us they also want to have something to spend for the booze and women because they’ve been too long away from their families.

For this chance encounter with those apparently gallivanting foreigner men we assume that RHWC chief Ramiterre is fair in saying that the big number of persons with HIV affliction is due to the convergence of many factors. And these include the presence of modern testing centers in the city, the desire of people who suspect they have HIV from being discovered to be carriers of the deadly virus by their friends and relatives, the influx of migrants working or seeking job opportunities in the city, and Davao’s being a major transshipment and export/import hub that brings in more foreign vessels with some sex-starved crew.

And the city government may hate to admit this. There is clear laxity in the implementation of measures regulating businesses that allow promiscuity to gain some footholds.

In the past three or four years it is not anymore a secret that certain areas in Davao City has evolved into motel avenues. The road stretch from Ecoland to Matina Aplaya is teeming with high-end motels and inns-cum-lodge each competing to offer low per two to three hour rates. The classy ones are also remodeling their façade to attract customers for short time stints.

Then the city has the stretch of the Maa road going to San Rafael. Seemingly this is another new motel alley. In addition there is the branch of a motel chain along Dakudao Avenue. All these areas are in addition to the once popular Cabaguio Avenue, Times Beach and the one at the interior of R. Castillo.

We also have such establishments that are actually not only providing certain physical enhancement or entertainment services but “transaction venues” for sexual pleasure negotiations? All of these businesses are getting their permits to operate by masquerading as SPAs or physical therapy centers, or videoke bars.

When all these are easily accessible to every Tom, Dick and Harry, be they of the first second or third kind of gender; be they local residents, transients, on R&R after days or months on board ships, then the chances of HIV affliction is strong.

But we disagree with the head of the RHWC chief on her claim that the 2,902 figure of those tested with HIV in the city is “imprecise.” It is very much precise as it simply indicates the number of people tested positive with HIV in Davao City.

That it is misleading, yes it is, because somehow it could give the impression that all those afflicted are city residents. No, they are not.

As the RHWC has claimed, many of them may have come from other areas of Mindanao and of the country who might have felt the assurance that their acquisition of the virus remain a deeply hidden secret; they who are so afraid of being stigmatized by society because of their affliction.

We wonder if the city government and the national health authorities can tweak their strategy in preventing the spread of HIV affliction on the aspect of stringent regulations on businesses that could aid the rise of the dreaded disease.

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