The number of newly diagnosed HIV cases in the country is increasing daily. This is alarming especially while the world’s HIV cases are on a dramatically downward trend. Health organizations have even named the Philippines as one of the countries with fastest growing HIV epidemic around the world.
In 2008, there was one case of HIV per day. In 2010, the daily count went up to 4 cases. In 2012, there were 9 a day and 17 a day in 2014. As of April 2016, the number of newly diagnosed HIV cases is a whopping 26 each day.
For the month of April 2016 alone, 32 deaths were reported.
Alarming details and statistics
According to the April 2016 HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP) report from the Department of Health’s Epidemiology Bureau, there were 772 new HIV positive individuals (94% were male, median age 28 years old) in the registry. This is 38% higher than last year’s 560 cases in the same period. Of these, 84% were asymptomatic. More than 50% of persons living with HIV (PLHIV) fall in the 25 to 34 year old group. On the other hand, 29% belong to the 15 to 24 year old group.
There were 520 people living with HIV newly-initiated on anti-retroviral therapy, which is also 38% higher than last year’s 378. A total of 13,908 PLHIV were presently on ART as of April 2016.
The regions with the most number of reported cases were:
National Capital Region – 313 (41%) cases
Region 4A with 133 – (17%) cases
Region 7 with 76 – (10%) cases
Region 3 with 65 – (8%) cases
Region 11 with 43 (6%) cases
A total of 142 (18%) cases came from the rest of the country.
Of the 32 reported deaths, 94% (30) were male while 6% (2) were female. Half of the reported deaths belong to the 25 to 34 year age group, 7 were in the 35 to 49 year age group, 8 were youth aged 15 to 24 years old, and 1 belongs to below 15 years old age group.
The predominant modes of transmission were: sexual contact (730), needle sharing among drug users (40), and mother-to- child transmission (2). Of those transmitted through sexual contact, 86% were among males who have sex with males (MSM).
However, different predominant modes of transmission are seen in different regions. Nearly half (49%) of the MSM ever reported were from NCR; 99% of the IDU were from Region 7; and 44% of females who engaged in transactional sex were from Region 3.
A total of 73 (9%) cases reported to have engaged in transactional sex. Majority (96%) were males whose ages ranged from 18 to 59 years while 3 were females whose ages ranged from 24 to 31 years. Sixty-seven per cent (47) of males that engaged in transactional sex have paid for sex while 1 of the females have engaged in both.
A total of 36 blood units were confirmed positive for HIV by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).
The lowdown on HIV, AIDS and ART
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) if left untreated with antiretroviral therapy (ART) can lead to the end stage disease called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
Unlike most viruses like flu, the body can’t completely get rid of HIV. Once infected with HIV, it stays in the body for life.
HIV relentlessly attacks the body’s immune system and if untreated, it reduces the number of CD4 cells (T cells) in the body until the immune system is unable to fight off disease and other infections. This makes the person more likely to acquire infections, infection-related cancers, and other diseases.
HIV is not easily spread. It is transmitted by direct contact of certain infectious body fluids such as blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk with a mucous membrane (inside the vagina, penis, rectum and mouth) or damaged tissue or by direct injection into the bloodstream (by a needle or syringe).
The best and the only way to determine if you have HIV is to get tested. Testing is simple, just ask your health care provider or go to clinics or community centers to get tested.
While no treatment can cure HIV, with appropriate medical care and timely ART initiation, HIV’s progression can be controlled. If taken correctly, this medicine can significantly prolong the lives of most PLHIV, keep them healthy, and remarkably decrease their chance of transmitting the virus to others. With appropriate treatment, PLHIV initiated on ART before the disease is has advanced, and maintained on ART can live almost as long as someone who does not have HIV.
PLHIV who are not initiated on ART will most likely proceed to the end stage of HIV called AIDS. It is the stage of infection that occurs when the immune system is severely damaged and it becomes more and more vulnerable to opportunistic infections. PLHIV can be diagnosed as having AIDS if he/she develops one or more opportunistic infections, regardless of the CD4 count.
If left untreated, a person who is diagnosed with AIDS normally survives up to about 3 years. If he or she acquires a dangerous opportunistic illness, like some form of cancer, life expectancy without treatment dramatically falls to just about 1 year. Medical treatment is paramount in people living with AIDS to prevent premature death.
Without immediate, targeted intervention, HIV and AIDS will continue to rise in the next 4 years. Vigorous public health campaigns focusing on HIV prevention like condom use, sex education and accessible testing, are urgently needed if the country wants to stop HIV.