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New app, website to make HIV clinics, treatment hubs more accessible

Filipinos in need of HIV/AIDS treatment or advice can now look up clinics and treatment hubs near them with the help of a new mobile app and website created to encourage treatment among its users while maintaining their privacy.

#SAFELYPH is a mobile navigation tool that can be used to learn how to contact and access HIV services on their phone without need for identification.

Users can look up their location on screen and see pins representing hygiene clinics, treatment hubs, and condom stops. A few taps will reveal more information about these locations, contact options for doctors, and how to get there using Google Maps.

The app was funded through the Global Fund HIV New Funding Model (NFM) project, which is designed to last from July 2015 to December 2017 to contribute to the vision of achieving zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths by 2020.

Save the Children, principal recipient of the Global Fund, developed #SAFELYPH in partnership with the Department of Health (DOH) to scale up prevention coverage among key affected populations (KAP).

These include male having sex with males, people who inject drugs, transgender persons, and pregnant mothers who may pass the disease on to their children.

Ned Olney, Save the Children country Director, said in a speech on Wednesday that they chose to create an app since social media is "currently the main source of information of the public" and is a key way of reaching tech-savvy KAP.

"We saw the need to develop innovative ways of reaching our key population through technology. We developed #SafelyPH together with the Department of Health and with the support of [HIV advocacy group] The Red Whistle, for HIV/AIDS information in the country to be readily accessible," Olney said.

"We hope that by making information readily available, we can reduce the stigma around HIV and encourage the general public—especially parents, teachers and community leaders—to be part of the conversation on HIV and AIDS so that we can, together, reduce the incidences in the country," he added.

Dr. Gerard Belimac, DOH's HIV STI, Viral Infections Program manager, said the DOH participated in this project to reach their goal of reducing new HIV infections among KAP by 2022.

The app also aligns with the 6th AIDS Medium Term Plan, which aims to "reach 90 percent of key populations at risk to HIV, test 90 percent people living with HIV (PLHIV), and treat 90 percent of PLHIV and retain them in the HIV care, and ensure that HIV treatment is successful."

Belimac encouraged those who have been tested to return to treatment hubs and start or continue anti-retroviral therapy, a treatment designed to suppress HIV and halt its progress.

"It is unfortunate that while anti-retroviral drugs are available, only about half of persons with established HIV diagnosis came forward and avail of these life-saving medications," he said.

"There is hope and certainly life after diagnosis, if ARV medications are started early," Belimac added.

According to the DOH 1,098 new HIV antibody sero-positive individuals were reported — 84 percent of which were asymptomatic at the time of reporting —  to the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP) from January to May 2017.

This marked a 48-percent increase in infections compared to the 741 cases recorded last year and the highest recorded cases ever since 1984.

Males composed 98 percent of all cases and the median age was 28. Thirty percent were youth belonging to the 15 to 24 age group while more than half belonged to the 25 to 34 age group.

National Capital Region recorded 404 (37 percent) of all cases, followed by Region 4A with 155 (14 percent) cases, Region 3 with 108 (10 percent) cases, Region 7 with 98 (9 percent) cases, Region 11 with 60 (5 percent) cases.

The rest of the country accounted for an additional 273 cases (25 percent).

Including old cases, there are 21,000 PLHIV on ART including 30 pediatric patients as of June 2017.

HIV attacks the immune system and opens the body to infections, infection-related cancers, and eventually AIDS.

The life-long disease is mostly acquired through unprotected sex, use of infected needles, or mother-to-child transmissions. HIV is not present in saliva or sweat.

ART can stop HIV virus from multiplying in the body but there is still no known cure for the disease. —KBK, GMA News

Tags: hiv-aids