The Department of Health (DOH) is determined to reverse the trend of HIV cases in the country.
In Bohol, for instance, 151 new HIV cases have been documented from January to December, 2016, according to the latest DOH data.
This came after the latest UNAIDS Report on the global HIV epidemic revealed that Philippines has become the country with the fastest growing HIV epidemic in Asia and the Pacific, and one of eight countries that account for more than 85% of new HIV infections in the region. The new infections more than tripled in the past years from an estimated 4,300 in 2010 to an estimated 36,659 this June 2017.
UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia-Pacific Director Eamonn Murphy said that the Philippines should immediately act on this growing problem to stop a major HIV epidemic from taking hold.
“If HIV programming is re-directed to focus on the people most at risk and where they are located, I’m sure the country can not only return to a stable situation but, even end the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030,” Murphy advised.
The country had been successful in controlling the HIV epidemic among female sex workers who were the majority victims in 1984 when it was first reported. There was a relatively low prevalence of HIV and AIDS then, however during 2001 to 2009, new cases of the virus were reported to have increased to more than 25 percent.
There was a shift in the epidemic starting 2007, with rising cases among males who have sex with males (MSM) and persons who inject drugs.
Again in 2016, the Philippine data reported that HIV cases among MSM and TGW remain high at 83%. Majority of the new infections occurred among 15 to 24 year old.
The same trend in victims showed in the latest data (June 2017) of the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP) where a total of 1,013 new HIV-positive individuals were reported. Of this number, 944 (93 percent) of whom were male and 69 were female. Of this half or 507 were in the 25-34 age group; 321 in the 15-24 age bracket; 153 in the 35-49 age range; 24 were 50 years old and above; and eight were less than 15 years old.
The National Capital Region had the highest cases with 360 (36 percent), followed by Calabarzon with 173 (17 percent), Central Luzon with 114 (11 percent), Central Visayas with 85 (8 percent), and the Davao region with 41 (4 percent). The remaining cases came from the rest of the country.
With the rising cases among MSM and TGW, the Philippine government has retooled its program to expand HIV services to these sectors and has opened clinics that cater specifically to their needs in urban areas where the risk of HIV is higher
At least one Sundown or HIV clinic will be opened in 117 identified cities where 80% of the new infections have been reported. The clinic will have convenient evening hours to cater to working people. It will be a one-stop shop that provides prevention, counseling, laboratory work-up, and treatment services.
The government has also taken measures towards enabling rapid HIV screening and delivery of test results.
Meanwhile, the DOH has been providing antiretroviral (ARV) medicine for free to anyone who tests positive for HIV, as well as other outpatient services to a maximum of PHP 30,000 ($US 600) a year per person. Between 2013 and 2015, the government increased funding for the HIV program, and now shoulders 70% of all financing for its responseLocal governments have also stepped-up their efforts by providing resources and implementing innovative HIV prevention services appropriate for their locales.
In NCR, Quezon City has opened three Sundown clinics which provide rapid HIV testing and counseling for MSM and TGW, as well as HIV treatment in a non-stigmatizing environment. The city has increased its funding for such initiatives since 2012 and is encouraging other local government units to invest more.
Since 1984, when HIV/AIDS was first reported in the country, a total of 45,023 HIV cases have been recorded, along with 4,306 AIDS cases and 2,185 deaths.
The DOH highly encourages all Filipinos to avail the HIV care services provided by various DOH – Designated Treatment Hubs in NCR and get tested to ensure of continuous universal access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) to all HIV carriers who are in need of treatment.
Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial said that HIV remains one of the top health priorities for the government and will intensify efforts to slow down and even stop the rising cases.
“We have significantly increased the budget allocated to HIV in the past few years, and are now implementing programs which we expect to have a positive impact. DOH, in collaboration with the Philippine National AIDS Council, other government agencies (NGAs, local government units (LGUs, and partner civil society organizations (CSOs) are determined and committed to halt the increase in the number of cases and start reversing the trend of the epidemic,” Ubial concluded. (DOH/ RJB/LFB/PIA-NCR)