The Philippines is now one of eight countries that account for more than 85 percent of new HIV infections in the Asia-Pacific Region, according to Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Paulyn Ubial.

In a press conference last August 1, she declared, “The Philippines has become the country with the fastest growing HIV epidemic in Asia and the Pacific.”

New HIV cases in the country more than doubled in six years, from 4,300 in 2010 to 10,500 in 2016.

Earlier in May, the DOH recorded 1,098 new HIV cases among Filipinos—the highest since 1984.

Director of UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia-Pacific, Eamonn Murphy said, “The Philippines has a small window of opportunity to act now and stop a major HIV epidemic from taking hold.

“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,” he adds.

According to Murphy, HIV cases among males who have sex with males (MSMs), and transgender women having sex with males (TGWs) account for 83 percent of new HIV cases in the Philippines.

And while data showed there was an increase in condom use (from 36 percent in 2011 to 50 percent in 2015), and testing (5 percent in 2011 and 16 percent in 2015) among MSMs and TWGs, the Health agency still considered these numbers quite low.

Preventing further growth of HIV epidemic

Ubial said that they are determined to halt the rapid rise of HIV infection in the country.

“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,” she 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,” she adds.

Ultimately, the DOH recognises the importance of early diagnosis in these patients, and urged at-risk individuals to get tested. MIMS

Suggested reading:
In conversation: Internal medicine specialist, Dr Adrian Rabe addresses the stigma that surrounds Filipinos living with HIV
In conversation: Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World honoree Dr Edsel Salvaña talks HIV/AIDS in the Philippines