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Dr. Van Philip Baton (w/ mic) of DOH-7 presenting the HIV incidence in the Philippines and in Region 7 during the press launch of LoveYourself White House Cebu on April 27. Records show that even though Philippines holds the lowers number of HIV cases in Asia, it has the fastest growing HIV epidemic which is seen to overtake the other countries in a few years' time. (PIA 7)

CEBU CITY, May 3 (PIA) -- A community-based center offering free HIV testing and treatment opened its doors in Cebu City, April 27.

The center called LoveYourself White House is equipped with laboratory diagnostic equipment that are crucial for clients living with HIV, says Ronivin Pagtakhan, LoveYourself founder and executive director.

The center, run by volunteers, seeks to offer a safe space not only for those who wish to have themselves tested for HIV but also those in need of counseling and life-coaching.

“We also provide HIV care services for clients in terms of prevention until treatment and we do activities that are focused on capacity building,” said Pagtakhan during the press launch.

The center here is the sixth facility of its kind opened by LoveYourself, a community of volunteers that started in 2011 that is implementing innovations and programs specific to HIV prevention and treatment.

In running the centers, Pagtakhan said they partnered with 12 other community-based organizations nationwide to help them reach people who need to be tested.

By 2018, the LoveYourself centers have tested a total of 28,000 persons, with 1,725 reactive clients currently enrolled in its treatment programs.

Forty percent of the HIV cases reported in the National Capital Region, which holds the highest number of HIV cases in the country, were reported by LoveYourself centers, added Pagtakhan.

By establishing a community center in Cebu, LoveYourself focuses its attention to the growing number of HIV cases in Central Visayas.

Top 4 in the Philippines 

According to Dr. Van Philip Baton, Medical Program Coordinator for Infectious Diseases of the Department of Health (DOH) in Region 8, Central Visayas has consistently ranked top 4 among the regions with the highest HIV cases in the country. “We are the first region outside of Luzon, far from the National Capital Region (which is number one), with the significant number of HIV cases,” said Baton.

In 2014, there were 615 cases reported in the region.

This jumped to 992 cases by 2018.

Since 1984, Central Visayas has been contributing to 9 percent of the total number of HIV infections in the country. “That’s around 1 in 10 coming from Region 7,” said Baton.

DOH records show that Cebu reported the highest number of cases in the region (92 percent), of which most are from Mandaue City, Cebu City, and LapuLapu City.

Of the total HIV cases in Central Visayas, 38 percent are people who inject drugs. “In Cebu, we have two problems- people who have sex unprotected and people who share infected needles,” the DOH official explained.

The rise in HIV cases in the region mirror the sharp increase of cases nationwide with an average of 32 new HIV cases reported per day in 2018.