The Philippines home to fastest-growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in Asia-Pacific – UN

The Philippines’ HIV/AIDS epidemic has become the fastest-growing of its kind in the past six years of the Asia-Pacific region according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)—and it’s showing no signs of stopping or slowing down.

In the first half of 2017 from January to May, 4,388 cases of human immunodeficiency virus/auto immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) were reported, with 95.01 percent of cases being among men and 4.99 percent among women. With an age range of 2 to 67 years old, the median age of those with reported cases of HIV were 38 years old. Of these 4,388 cases, 516 progressed to become AIDS.

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More than half of the cases occurred among persons aged 25 to 34 at 50.3 percent, and the second most frequent age range was 15 to 24 years old at 30.65 percent. Overall, the cases reported from January to May 2017 saw 187 deaths of HIV and AIDS infected persons.

In the month of May 2017 alone, 1,098 new cases of HIV infections were reported—topping the list of the highest number of reported cases since 1984 when the first case of HIV was reported, according to the Department of Health (DOH). Of these 1,098 cases, 958 were detected in the asymptomatic stage, early on in the HIV infection, and 140 were detected when the HIV had already progressed to become AIDS.

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Of these new cases in May 2017, 30 percent were aged 15 to 24 at the time of diagnosis, and 95 percent were male. The areas in the Philippines with the highest number of reported cases were: 37 percent occurred in the National Capital Region (NCR), 14 percent in Region 4A, and 10 percent in Region 3.

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The epidemic has grown in recent years that on average, 29 people are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS per day in 2017, in stark contrast to the average of 1 person diagnosed per day in 2008.

UNAIDS chime in

Looking to the future, UNAIDS regional support team director for Asia-Pacific Eamonn Murphy says that the country can end the public health threat by 2030 if government efforts are redirected to focus on locations and people most at risk.

Moreover, he warned that male to male sex (MSM) and transgender female to male sex (TGM) are among the most at risk occurrences that lead to HIV.

While majority of these infections in 2015 were among 15 to 25 year-old men, only 35 percent had correct knowledge on HIV/AIDS education, as reported by UNAIDS.

For the last six years, the Philippines has seen a 140 percent increase in the number of HIV/AIDS infections from the 4,300 recorded cases in 2010 to the 10,500 recorded cases in 2016. As such, the Philippines has become the country with the fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Asia-Pacific region, according to a report by UNAIDS.

Since 1984, a total of 44,010 HIV/AIDS cases have occurred, with 93.01 percent of affected persons being male and 6.99 percent being female. Moreover, 2,156 cases have led to the deaths of affected persons.

Government response

With the growing health crisis, the government has responded by prioritizing HIV services under the Duterte administration after they vowed to control it in the Philippine Health Agenda Plan for 2016-2022, led by the DOH.

In line with the health agenda, Senate Bill No. 376, or the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Bill, is currently pending the Senate after being approved by the House of Representatives. The bill aims to create a more comprehensive and “national multi-sectoral strategy” as a means of tackling the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Philippines.

The government has also expanded the HIV services for the MSM and TGW, particularly in 117 cities that compose 80 percent of where new infections have been reported. DOH is also providing free antiretroviral medicine to anyone who tests positive for HIV and other out-patient services to a maximum of P30,000 per person annually.

DOH-managed HIB treatment hubs in Metro Manila include the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, San Lazaro Hospital, and Makati Medical Center. Local governments have also opened HIV prevention services on their own such as the three clinics in Quezon City which provide HIV testing and counseling.

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