HIV in the Philippines | Know your status
By Anne Doblados
An estimate of 23,709 cases of HIV or human immunodeficiency virus in the country was recorded by the Department of Health (DOH) as of February 2015.
For the first quarter of this year, the DOH-National Epidemiology Center has recorded 748 new HIV positive cases. This was 51 percent higher compared to the same period in 2014 with only 495 new cases. This figure is said to be the highest number of cases reported since 1984.
New HIV cases, according to DOH, continue to increase every year. In fact, the National HIV/AIDS and STI Surveillance and Strategic Unit under the DOH, stated that on average, there are 21 Filipinos diagnosed with HIV each day.
Last May, the DoH initiated a voluntary testing campaign to encourage high-risk individuals to test for HIV.
The recent report stated that HIV cases in Western Visayas also increased. The Provincial Health Office in Aklan has recorded 126 new cases of HIV in the region from January to May this year bringing the total number of cases to 890 in the region since 1984,” the report said.
According to Free District report, HIV cases in the Philippines has climbed to an astonishing 277 percent in the last five years.
Teresita Marie Bagasao, head of the Manila office of the United Nations Program on HIV-AIDS said that the Philippines is unlikely to meet its sixth Millennium Development Goal which is to “halt and reverse the spread of HIV by 2015.”
Take the test
Among the crucial ways to prevent the spread of HIV is to get tested. However, data from the DOH show that the persons who voluntary submit to HIV test is lower than expected.
The 2013 National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) cited that only 2 percent of women, aged 15-49, have been tested for HIV.
The surveillance study also conducted by the DOH indicated that only eight percent of Males Who have Sex with Males (MSM), 15.2 percent of Male Sex Workers, 5.4 percent of Transgender who are Sex Workers, and 6.3 percent of People Who Inject Drugs are aware of their HIV status and have accessed HIV testing services.
“Among reasons why some respondents do not want to get tested include the fear of public exposure of their HIV status and the persistence of stigma attached to HIV testing,” the DOH said in a statement.
The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) which advocates HIV prevention said that “voluntary counselling and testing for HIV is stigma-free, confidential, accessible, routinary, and free of charge.”
“Voluntary counselling and testing for HIV is an effective way to prevent HIV transmission and AIDS related deaths. It offers practical ways for both HIV-negative and HIV-positive persons to remain healthy, to access treatment, and to avoid the spread of the virus,” the said NCCP in a statement.
The NCCP also launched a campaign dubbed as #PreventionNOTCondemnation wherein they expose and challenge the various myths and misconceptions of their faith communities on HIV and the manner of HIV infections.
“Many still think that they are immune or not affected by HIV. This sense of invulnerability has become our individual barrier to making the right informed decisions. We are educating our religious leaders and church workers to help people understand that they are vulnerable to HIV simply because they are human. The HIV virus does not discriminate and like any virus, it can infect anyone,” the statement read.
The DOH also urged the public to get tested to know their status. The first step is to get tested. If a person turns out to be HIV-positive, he or she can get proper medical treatment and attention. This way, the HIV virus will not progress into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) and avoid AIDS-related deaths.
“Once you know your status, counselling and treatment follows,” said DOH spokesperson, Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy said.
Under the Republic Act 8504, or Philippines Comprehensive Prevention and Control Act of HIV/AIDS, HIV testing should be done on a voluntary basis. Confidential HIV testing and counselling are available and free in all partner Social Hygiene Clinics.
DOH also made available 24/7 HIV hotlines — (02) 2563472, (0915)198.6978, (0922) 6350270, (0936) 1838963 and (0919) 638.5401 for confidential inquiries and referrals. These hotlines are manned by trained volunteers of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).