The 17 mayors from the National Capital Region (NCR) have jointly signed a resolution making HIV a public health emergency, in the wake of the region consistently accounting for at least 40 percent of HIV cases reported in the country.

According to UNAIDS - the United Nations agency for AIDS - the Philippines has been reported as having the fastest growing HIV/AIDS cases in Asia-Pacific. The number of cases shot up 140 percent in the last six years.

And many of the cases recorded were traced to NCR, based on the recent Epidemiology Bureau report, as well as previous years' statistics. The cases reported are entered into the HIV/AIDS Registry of the Philippines (HARP), which is dedicated to tracking the progression of the disease in the country.

The bureau, under the Department of Health, most recently reported 1,013 new HIV positive individuals for the month of June alone, and NCR accounted for 36 percent or a total of 360 cases.

Overall, there are now a total of 35,023 HIV/AIDS cases in the Philippines recorded from January 1985 up to June 2017, with the region accounting for 18,823 of the cases, of 42 percent.

Projected to reach hundred thousands

Unless drastic action is taken, it is projected that HIV/AIDS cases could rise to as much as 201,000 by 2025 from the initial estimate of 67,000 by the end of 2017.

“The picture of the present epidemic shows that majority of new infections are among males who have sex with males (MSM) and transgender women who have sex with males (TGW) aged 15 to 24 years old,” according to the DOH in a statement.

The EB earlier revealed that battling the disease by reaching the correct population is crucial. They noted that many among the at-risk population, MSM and TGW, engage in sexual contact at 16 years of age, only use protection by 18, and get their first HIV test by 22.

They only get initial treatment at 28 years, which by then might already be too late considering there is a new and more aggressive HIV strain where progression to end-stage AIDS takes a mere 5 years.

Accelerating the response in NCR and in other high burden areas will be significant in halting the advance of HIV in the Philippines, according to the department.

Urgent call to action

“The time to act is now,” declared Secretary of Health Paulyn Ubial during a meeting with city leaders. The Department of Health (DOH) has recently called for emergent actions to counter HIV/AIDS.

“We can buy all the drugs that we need, we can buy all the test kits that we need. We can find the government funding to do this, but what we need is for our cities to join with the department in making sure that we deliver through new and innovative delivery systems,” she said at the meeting.

This prompted all the mayors who were in attendance to agree to make HIV/AIDS an emergency public health programme.

“I am confident that all cities in the NCR will heed the call to take the actions necessary to reach our 90-90-90 goals by 2020. As the chair of the Philippines League of Cities, I call on all cities in the country to join us and act now,” said Taguig City Mayor Laarni ‘Lani’ Cayetano.

Mayor Cayetano was referring to the 90-90-90 strategy and goal proposed by the United Nations in ending HIV/AIDS by 2020.

Under the strategy, by 2020, 90 percent of all people living with HIV will know their status, 90 percent of those diagnosed with have sustained treatment, and 90 percent will have viral suppression.

Critical areas

The Metro Manila cities’ Mayors and their representatives signed a resolution against HIV, making the condition an emergency and strengthening critical areas.

The critical areas include education, particularly in terms of increasing knowledge on HIV transmission, prevention and services among Filipinos, prevention of new HIV transmission among younger Filipinos, promotion of HIV testing among high risk population, treatment of those with HIV, and elimination of mother-to-child transmission.

The city AIDS council, in addition, will create prevention and testing approaches in establishments offering HIV care services.

The UNAIDS director for the regional support team for Asia and the Pacific, Eamonn Murphy, praised the country for responding quickly and innovatively with the community to the first wave of the epidemic.

“The fight against HIV and AIDS needs a concerted and coordinated response from all stakeholders, and all local and national chief executives,” said Secretary Ubial. MIMS

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