CASES of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the country more than doubled in the past six years, making the Philippines one of eight countries in the Asia-Pacific region where the virus continues to rampage, a report from UNAIDS said.
The report said HIV infections in the country increased from 4,300 in 2010 to 10,500 in 2016.
“The Philippines has a small window of opportunity to act now and stop a major HIV epidemic from taking hold,” Eamonn Murphy, Director of UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia-Pacific, said.
“If HIV programming is redirected 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 added.
The other countries with high HIV infection rates are Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh and Australia.
In 2016, 83 percent of new HIV cases occurred among males having sex with males (MSM) and transgender women having sex with males (TGW). A majority of new infections occurred between the ages of 15 and 24 among MSM and TGW.
The UN report said only 35 percent of the 15 to 24-year-old MSM and TGW had correct knowledge on HIV transmission and prevention. Condom use among this group increased from 36 percent in 2011 to 50 percent in 2015, which is below the expected 80 percent target.
The percentage of MSM and TGW who knew their HIV status by getting tested increased from five percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2015.
The Philippines has improved its HIV services for males who have sex with males and transgender women by opening clinics in urban areas where HIV prevalence is higher.
The current strategy of the health sector is to focus on 117 high-burden areas where 80 percent of new infections have been reported. These areas include Metro Manila and its surrounding provinces, Cebu, Davao, Tagum, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Zamboanga, General Santos, Koronadal, Butuan, Iloilo, Bacolod, Puerto Princesa, Tacloban, Naga, Lucena, Angeles, Mabalacat, Tarlac, San Fernando Cabanatuan, Olongapo and Baguio.
Their goal is open at least one HIV clinic in each of the high burden areas and provide a one-stop shop for prevention, counseling, laboratory workup, and treatment services.
The Department of Health (DoH) provides free antiretroviral (ARV) medicines for free to anyone who tests positive for HIV, as well as other outpatient services to a maximum of P30,000 a year per person.
Government funding has increased in the past years to boost the HIV program. This year, the DoH allocated P900 million for it.
“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,” Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial said.
“The Department of Health, together with the Philippine National AIDS Council, other government agencies, local government units, and partner civil society groups is determined and committed to halt the increase in the number of cases and start reversing the trend of the epidemic in five years,” Ubial added.