HIV-infected moms pose severe risk of transmission through breastfeeding, health experts say

Concerned by the recent spike of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cases in the region, health experts, along with sexual and reproductive rights advocates, find mother-to-child transmission a critical risk to spreading the virus.

During the press conference on May 29 at the Apple Peach House Legazpi City, Ma. Grace Guevarra, chief medical technologist of Naga City Social Hygiene Clinic, said that infected mothers breastfeeding their children pose a potential risk of transmitting HIV to the general population.

“Kapag mayroon na kasi tayong nakikitang mother to child transmission, ibig sabihin, pumapasok na unti-unti sa general population ang transmission then in fact (sa) report, ang nakikita natin mayroon lang specific population kung saan nandoon ang population pero ngayon mayroon nang na-rerecord so this is one of the alarming issues na nakikita natin sa data,” Guevarra said.

She also furthered that HIV can be transmitted by having contact with infected persons through three types of body fluids, including blood, sexual or genital fluid, and breast milk, stressing that unprotected sexual intercourse with infected persons is a major cause.

Recent data revealed that there were seven HIV-positive pregnant women reported at the time of diagnosis in the country, and among them was one from Region V. 

Furthermore, the Bicol region contributes over three percent to the national HIV cases, with Naga City being classified as Category A, indicating a high-risk area with 249 reported cases, followed closely by the provinces of Albay, Sorsogon, and Camarines Sur. 

Nenita Laude-Ortega, country manager for AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) Philippines,  stressed the importance of strengthening prevention interventions, highlighting the need to break the stigma among those who are infected. 

“Ang gusto natin makita dito ay nag-iincrease ‘yong intervention prevention component sa Naga and at the same time makita natin sino mga positive, hindi naman para pagpiyestahan but rather we wanted to help them kaya ililink natin immediately sa treatment para mas makuha nila yung quality of life, pag naging quality life, economically productive ‘yan makakatulong sa development not only ng family but the whole of the society,” she said.

Ortega also admitted that the facilities capable of providing free testing services in the region are still very limited, noting that they are weaving different approaches to cope with this situation.

“That’s why global part is now here in Bicol region at community based ‘yong kanilang intervention para mai-map out yung case finders kasi ang trabaho niya is i-map out nasaan itong pwedeng i-enggage do’n sa testing, differentiate the testing,” she said.

The Philippines is aiming to meet a 95-95-95 set of targets where 95 percent of people living with HIV should be detected, 95 percent of those detected should be on treatment, and 95 percent of those on treatment must achieve viral suppression. 

Currently, the country has only reached 63-36-36 of the target respectively, which indicates a significant gap that needs to be addressed.

AHF together with the GentleMen Bicol, a community-based organization in Daraga Albay, are intensifying their efforts to mitigate the risks of HIV transmission by encouraging everyone, especially the youth, to get tested for free.

They are also planning to reach and tap the barangay levels, especially the barangay health workers (BHW), in order to easily monitor at-risk people within their local areas.

Although there is no cure for HIV, treatment is available to suppress the virus in the body, which can stop the risk of transmission to others.| Lyzha Mae Agnote