Every first of December, the whole world observes World Aids Day. It is a special commemoration of the global effects of the HIV/Aids pandemic.
The World Aids Day begun in 1988 to call on people around the globe to unite and fight the spread of HIV, to eliminate stigma against people living with HIV as well as to educate people about prevention and treatment. For this year, the theme is “Getting to Zero.”
Based on Worldaidsday.org data, at least 35 million people have died of HIV and AIDS making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.
In the Philippines, according to the Department of Health (DOH), the reported number of newly-diagnosed HIV cases is increasing. From January to October this year, a total of 6,552 individuals were diagnosed with HIV.
The health department said that this is 37 times higher than the total number of people diagnosed with HIV for the entire year in 2001 which is 174.
People who are diagnosed with HIV also increased. In 2000, there is one HIV case diagnosed every three days. In 2015, one case of HIV is detected every hour.
The World Health Organization (WHO) also described the Philippines as having the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the world.
‘Low knowledge about the disease’
The DOH report “State of the HIV Epidemic in the Philippines” revealed that many Filipinos still has low knowledge about the disease.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) indicator, ‘correct and comprehensive knowledge on HIV prevention and transmission’ remains low for all key populations,” the DOH said in the report.
According to the DOH, the Philippines has set a target of 80 percent but data showed that less than 40 percent of males and transgender who have sex with males, female sex workers, and people who inject drugs (PWID) demonstrate comprehensive knowledge on HIV.
The HIV or human immunodeficiency virus is a virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS. The antiretroviral drug can be taken as treatment by a person with HIV to prevent full blown AIDS. Avert.org says that the current treatment for HIV is not a cure for HIV. Instead, the drug can control the virus and can make the person with HIV stay healthy.
The antiretroviral drug can keep the level of HIV low and lets immune system recover and the person with HIV will stay strong. If the person with HIV stays strong, there is a lesser possibility of death caused by AIDS.
‘Rising cases of HIV’
With the low knowledge about the HIV, the DOH said that cases people living with HIV is also increasing.
According to DOH, HIV cases among males and transgender having sex with males have increased 10 times in the past five years.
“In fact, the country has breached the United Nations 5 percent threshold in this group,” the report said.
Five percent is the United Nations’ threshold to declare an area as having a concentrated epidemic.
From 1984, since the virus was identified to 2009, the predominant mode of transmission was heterosexual sex.
However in 2010, sharing of needles among people who inject drug, and unprotected sex among males and transgender having sex with males, changed the epidemic scenario in the country, said DOH.
“HIV prevalence is now above 5 percent in eight cities in the country: Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Puerto Princesa, Mandaue, Davao, Quezon City, Paranaque and Makati. In Cebu, HIV prevalence is already at 14 percent.
Target for condom use among males having sex with males (MSMs) to stop the epidemic was set at 80 percent. However, the country has only reached 44 percent. Thus, we should not expect to see a decline in new infections among MSMs until we increase condom use and sustain it at a high rate,” the report said.
According to the latest Integrated HIV Behavioral and Serologic Surveillance (IHBSS), one of the reasons cited for low condom use was its unavailability (54 percent) followed by rejection of using condoms during sexual activity (21 percent).
To address this problem, the DOH appropriated a budget for the procurement of condoms and lubricants, and had been distributing these in the regions. The DOH is also identifying areas where to best distribute condoms together with intensified peer education to promote condom use, especially among high-risk populations.
The report also said that HIV and Hepatitis C remain high among people who inject drug in Cebu City where an estimated 4,500 people injected drugs. The IHBSS prevalence showed that one in every two people who inject drugs has HIV.
The DOH said there are about 1,289 people who inject drugs have already been diagnosed with HIV but only 112 or nine percent are on anti-retroviral treatment.
About 10 percent of people who inject drug are new injectors or have started injecting in the past year.
The HIV prevalence in the 15 to 24 years old population also has increased from .006 percent in 2001 to .053 percent in 2015. “This translates to more than 800 percent increase,” the report read.
‘Setting new targets’
Health Secretary Janette Garin said the World Health Organization and the UNAIDS Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) have again set a global target for 2020. The WHO is currently working on a new strategy for the global health sector response to HIV for 2016-2021.
The new goals are the following: 90 percent of all PLHIV (People Living with HIV) will know their status, 90 percent of all PLHIV will receive antiretroviral treatment and 90 percent of all receiving antiretroviral treatment will have stable viral suppression.
“If we do not slow down our HIV epidemic, if we do not invest in preventing new HIV infections, the number of PLHIV will reach 133,000 by 2022”, Garin said, adding that this would cost Philhealth P4-billion per year for the outpatient HIV package alone and would continue to increase each year unless the country can stop new infections.
According to UNAIDS report, there are 36.9 million people around the world who have been living with HIV, 17.1 do not know they have the virus and need to be reached with HIV testing services, and around 22 million do not have access to HIV treatment, including 1.8 million children.
The WHO leads activities on HIV treatment and care, HIV and tuberculosis co-infection, and jointly coordinates with UNICEF the work on the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.