Health authorities are encouraging pregnant women from Metro Manila and Cebu to get tested for HIV, and announced test kits are available in community health centres. 

HIV testing will be similar to testing for syphilis and hepatitis, according to Department of Health (DOH) programme manager of HIV-STI prevention department Dr Gerard Belimac.

However, he clarified that testings are voluntary and the department is not forcing pregnant women to subject themselves to get tested.

“We won’t force them. But we are not closing doors to them. In their next prenatal, we will still offer the free HIV testing,” Dr Belimac was quoted as saying.

Those who tested HIV positive are further urged to undergo antiretroviral therapy (ART) to slow down the infection's progression.

The tests are currently only being offered in Metro Manila and Cebu, but could be offered elsewhere depending on budget allocation.

Through the years the number of pregnant women with HIV has increased. Beginning 2011, there were a total of 214 cases, with 65 recorded this year, and two cases in October 2017.

“More than half - 120 cases - were from the age group 15-24 years old and 38 percent were from the age group 25-34 years old,” noted the Epidemiological Bureau, the disease surveillance arm of DOH.

Nearly half of the cases occurred in the National Capital Region (NCR) with 49 percent, followed by Region 7 with 25 percent of cases and then Region 4A with 9 percent.

A pregnant woman has a 24 percent chance of infecting her baby, but could lower the risk if she undergoes ART.  

“Without treatment, about one third of children living with HIV die by their first birthday and half die by their second,” according to UNAIDS, an international agency dedicated to combating HIV/AIDS.  

The agency added that ART before the 12th week of life could reduce HIV-related mortality of children living with HIV by 75 percent. MIMS