THE Philippines is one of eight countries that account for majority of new cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the Asia-Pacific region, with the number having more than doubled in the past six years, according to a UN report.
From the period of 2010 to 2016, cases of new infections of HIV in the country has risen from 4,300 in 2010 to 10,500 in 2016, Eamonn Murphy, director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for the Asia-Pacific said.
Murphy said, however, that despite the increase, the number was not as high as other countries in the region, which record tens of thousands annually.
“The Philippines has a small window of opportunity to act now and stop a major HIV epidemic from taking hold,” Murphy said.
“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 said.
Data from the Philippines revealed that in 2016, 83 percent of newly reported 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 15-24 years old among the MSM and TGW.
Also from the same report, only 35 percent of the 15-24 year old MSM and TGW had correct knowledge on HIV transmission and prevention. Condom use among the same demographic has 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 5 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2015.
The Philippines has improved its programs regarding the expansion of HIV services for males who have sex with males and transgender women such as opening clinics in urban areas where HIV prevalence was 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.
Its goal is to 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) is providing free antiretroviral (ARV) medicine 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 help the HIV program and currently, the DOH has 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 Rosell-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.