In 2008, one HIV/AIDS case was reported daily. Nearly a decade after, it's now 31 cases recorded daily and health authorities are understandably alarmed.

According to the HIV/AIDS Registry of the Philippines (HARP) report for July to August, 1,962 new cases have been added to the national registry bringing the total number of cases nationwide to 46,985.

In late 2016, the number was already staggering at 25 cases reported daily. It has since jumped to 31 in the latter part of 2017, from just nine cases in 2012.

At this rate, the Epidemiological Bureau, the Department of Health's disease surveillance arm, predicts the number could balloon to 142,000 in 2022 and further rise to 313,000 by 2030.

In spite the increases and grim estimations, the health agency assured it continued to work to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS by bringing tests and treatments to those at risk.

"Despite the increases in the number of HIV cases in the country, it is of paramount importance to emphasize that successes have been achieved so far in our fight against the HIV epidemic - from prevention, treatment and care, as echoed by this year's theme 'Right to Health,'' said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III during a press conference commemorating World AIDS Day.

Concentrated in key populations

In the July-August report, it was noted that an overwhelming majority of the cases were those of males having sex with males (MSM) and transgender women having sex with males, which stood at 84 percent.

But there was another worrisome trend: two in three HIV infections are from the age group 15 to 24 among MSMs and TGWs.

Meanwhile, a total of 18 pregnant women were diagnosed with HIV between July and August, with 10 of them from the National Capital Region, four from Region 4A, three from Region 7, and a lone case from Region 3, the HARP report said.

Worldwide, there are a total of 36.7 million people living with HIV in 2016, 5.1 million of them reportedly situated in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the United Nations AIDS (UNAIDS) organization.

Former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial previously noted the Philippines was already regarded as a nation with a fast-growing HIV epidemic.

Below 1 percent

Even with the rising number of cases, the DOH is working to keep the prevalence below 1 percent.

Secretary Duque pointed out that almost all Asian countries with HIV epidemic are classified as low level, meaning only less than 1 percent of the general population are living with HIV, including the Philippines.

He assured the public that government was striving to keep the prevalence at less than one percent.

Non-government advocates and government officials have both worked for correct information dissemination and asking at-risk populations to get tested and treated.

Secretary Duque added that they are looking to expand their information services to all members of the public, not just the key affected populations.

“We have to strengthen our programmes, especially surveillanc..., it’s not supposed to be limited to only the high risk groups,” he said, putting emphasis on bigger investments to ensure widespread reach of information and treatment services nationwide.

Social hygiene clinics

The department is now close to having 200 social hygiene clinics nationwide. These clinics provide HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) services.

“The DOH continuously supports the conduct of free HIV testing among key populations as delivered by Social Hygiene Clinics,” said the health department.

Meanwhile, antiretroviral therapy (ART) has been in place since 2006 and is 100 percent free in DOH-operated hospitals. If patients opt to pay for their own treatment, it would cost them up to Php 50,000 annually, the Health chief said.

In addition, there is now a total of 51 DOH-designated treatment facilities which offer antiretroviral (ART) medicines, and a total of 22,413 PLHIV are getting treated.

“We commit to provide and facilitate access to information for all Filipinos, prevention services for key populations, and treatment for PLHIV, by 2022, the goal is to provide ART to 90 percent of PLHIV,” said Secretary Duque.

The DOH has allotted a total of Php 1.4 billion for HIV/AIDS services for 2018, most of will go to the procurement of ART drugs, which are costly, said DOH Undersecretary Dr Gerardo Bayugo.

Likewise, Dr Bayugo called on at-risk populations to know their status, and for PLHIVs who do not receive treatment due to stigma to come out into the open.

“If people will be afraid to come out, then we cannot control the spread of AIDS among our population,” Usec Bayugo said.

“We will continuously mobilize support and foster partnerships with international bodies, other government agencies, non-government organizations, civil society and the private sector to maximize whatever resources we have in hand,” Secretary Duque assured.

HIV/AIDS policy act passes House

Meanwhile, the House of Representative passed the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act at 188-0 during its third and final hearing.

The bill, if enacted into law, will amend the AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998.

It also seeks to establish a National Multi-Sectoral HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan, which will create a road map for HIV/AIDS that has clear strategies, targets, operationalization framework and funding.

Various state institutions will also have a clearly defined role in tackling the HIV/AIDS spread.

Generally, the policy act will improve on information dissemination, education and stigma reduction and ensure that services do protect human rights and dignity. MIMS

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