The number of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cases in the country may not be the highest in the world at this point, but the alarming spread of infections has prompted a recent study by the UNAIDS to conclude that the Philippines has the fastest growing HIV epidemic in Asia Pacific.
The 2017 UNAIDS report showed that the number of new infections in the Philippines rose by 140 percent to 10,500 in 2016 from 4,300 in 2010.
The report released on Aug. 1, 2017 prompted Akbayan Sen. Risa Hontiveros to ask the government to declare a national emergency to mobilize resources and tap the latest available modes of intervention.
The epidemic has shifted from female sexual workers as HIV carriers, through which the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is transmitted, to men having sex with men and transgender women having sex with men.
Two out of three new HIV infections are 15 to 24 years old, particularly men who have sex with men.
The HIV epidemic is a national emergency, according to the head of the AIDS Research Group of the Health department’s Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.
“Dr. Rossana Ditangco warned that the government’s current approach to the epidemic means that ‘we can’t control the rapid rise of HIV infection’,” according to a separate report by the Human Rights Watch.
“The sharp rise in new HIV infections in the Philippines since 2010 stands in sharp contrast to decreasing or stagnant rates of new infections in other parts of the Asia-Pacific region,” the HRW report noted.
Before the situation gets any worse, the government must heed the call to declare a national emergency on HIV-AIDS to institute intervention and turn the tide on the epidemic.
Amid official expressions of concern, the government continues to delay the rollout of proven low-tech and low-cost interventions that can address the spread of HIV among men who have sex with men, the HRW has warned.
“Instead, it should immediately implement the recommendations from a recent Human Rights Watch report and remove current official obstacles to condom access and usage as well as ensure that schools include safer sex and HIV prevention education in the curriculum,” according to HRW.
The government should also reactivate harm reduction programs targeting injecting drug use, particularly in Cebu City, it said. Likewise, the government needs to step up its efforts to eliminate stigma and discrimination, which are key factors in discouraging or preventing key affected populations from being tested or treated.
The worsening severity of the Philippines’ HIV epidemic is unquestionable. The government needs to demonstrate that it is finally willing to adequately address it.