MANILA, Philippines – Prevention is better than cure.
In celebration of World AIDS Day on December 1, advocacy and action group LoveYourself Inc launched a new prevention program called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PReP) on Tuesday, November 29, to curb the continually rising human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic in the country.
PrEP is a daily pill that can be taken by people without HIV as an additional tool for prevention. It is a combination of tenofovir and emtricabine which lowers the chances of contacting the virus.
“We need to have more HIV prevention interventions, since more than 50% of males-having-sex-with-males (MSM) are not using condoms,” LoveYourself Senior Director Chris Lagman told Rappler.
PrEP has been used in developed countries – US, France, Norway, Australia, Israel, Canada, and the European Union – since July 2012 to stop the spread of the virus.
Asked why the cure is only coming to the Philippines now, Lagman told Rappler: “Of course there has been some clinical studies first in other countries. I think we waited for it to mature first. But we’re happy that we have it now.”
The Philippines has one of the fastest growing HIV epidemics in the world. According to the Department of Health (DOH), around 25 people get HIV in the Philippines every day. If the epidemic is not curbed, the number of people living with HIV (PLHIVs) may reach 133,000 by 2022, the health department estimates.
Not a replacement for condoms
While PrEP is a promising program for people without HIV who practice unsafe sex practices, Lagman noted that the medicine is just another level of protection.
“PrEP should not be taken as a replacement to current prevention measures, but an option and another level of protection to avoid getting HIV,” he said.
The program will start in January 2016 with 200 participants identified by LoveYourself as an initial group. The treatment will be free and easily available in LoveYourself clinics.
The program is supported by DOH and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Dr Rossana Ditangco, AIDS Research Group chief of the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM), commended LoveYourself for its community-led efforts in curbing the epidemic.
“To be effective and successful, PrEP should be community-led and not led by the medical professionals. It’s very important for the community to understand the safety and efficacy of PrEP…This project should be have minimal intervention from the medical professionals,” Ditangco said.
The fight to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in the Philippines continues and Ditangco believes it would take all sectors to do it.
“There is really no one magic bullet for HIV prevention. HIV is a multi-facted, multi-dimentional problem. No one solution can stop the spread in the country. You have to attack it in all aspects becaause there are so many social and medical factors that would influence the spread of HIV,” Ditangco said.
For Lagman, the fight starts in removing the stigma on sex.
“First of all, (people should) get to know more about sex. People are doing it without the proper knowledge. People should do it in a healthy, safer way. Know and talk more about sex and remove that idea that sex is crass. Sex is good and it is something we can talk about openly.
The launch of the PrEP program is a part of a series of celebrations conducted by various non-profit organization to celebrate World AIDS Day. Earlier on Tuesday, November 29, Senator Risa Hontiveros underwent a voluntary HIV test to lift the stigma against the disease and to push for better HIV/AIDS legislation in the Philippines. – Rappler.com