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Not just cold numbers

Uriel Quilinguing .

ONE can never go wrong with real numbers in mind; data that are vital for those involved in policy formulation and decision-making. Without them, one would be courting disaster to happen due to decisions gone wrong, an action triggered either by impulse or mere intuition.

The data from the HIV/Aids and ART Registry of the Philippines (Harp), for instance, is quite revealing and must be examined closely by our local and national legislators in the crafting measures and by stakeholders in the health sector who are involved in planning, investment programming and policy recommendations.

Mediakonek considers this subject with greater interest because discussions on this is not only timely for the International Aids Candlelight Memorial and Mobilization, which is set every third Sunday in the month May, but also relevant. It is because the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (Aids) has been the world’s second leading cause of deaths, behind acute respiratory infections, since 1999, according to the World Health Organization.

But the lead government agency on this, the Department of Health has not been responding well to the compelling demand for responsive information, education and communication campaign in the midst of an uptrend in the number of persons found positive human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Despite this, those behind the publication online the Harp every month [ART here, for those not familiar with it, as antiretroviral treatment] must be commended, even if it is always two months late. Obviously, data such as these need to be collected from the field, accurately collated, carefully analyzed and meaningfully interpreted, hence it cannot possibly be done monthly.

Laws of national application and with expected long-term benefits do consider the trend at the macro level but those in the localities, where individuals are situated, the local situations are of importance and whatever interventions and budgetary allocations there are would have direct impacts.

Deaths of persons living with HIV (PLWH) due to opportunistic infections do not seem to draw interests from those who sought elective government posts in the recent May 13 polls, not one of the aspirants made any reference of it during the candidates fora. 

The other day, a television newscast mentioned there were 1,172 new PLWH and that brought the total number, for the first three months this year, to 3,434. This figure brings the cumulative total  from January 1984 ( when the first HIV case was detected in the Philippines) until March 30, 2019 to 65,463.

While Mediakonek is in agreement with the oft-repeated line from health experts that one must go beyond HIV-Aids statistics, understanding health situations necessitates the presentation of evidence which is expressed in real numbers. For any citizen, numbers matter since these indicate the gravity of the problem, a measurement on the extent of interventions to be introduced.

How can one ignore the fact that for the first three months this year, 2019, there are 38 new cases of HIV-positive individuals every day, when that was two cases in a day, 10 years ago. Last year, it was 32 cases in a day. So if nothing is done, that number—and the fatalities, as well—will continue to increase.

These are not just plain and simple cold numbers but these cannot be set aside since human lives are involved.

(Uriel C. Quilinguing is a former editor-in-chief of this paper. He was once the president of the Cagayan de Oro Press Club and, for several years, president of the Media Health Advocates of Region 10.)

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