MANILA, Philippines – “It’s more red in the Philippines.”
Health advocates put a new twist to the Philippines’ tourism slogan as they raised the alarm on the rising number of HIV/AIDS infections in the Philippines.
Officials of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the Health Department and lawmakers expressed concern over a UNAIDS report naming the Philippines as one of only 9 countries where HIV/AIDS infections increased by 25% in the last decade.
The officials spoke in a forum at the Senate on Monday, December 3, to mark World Aids Day last December 1.
Sen Pia Cayetano and Dr Eric Tayag, head of the Health Department’s National Epidemiological Center, cited the passage of the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill as one of the steps needed to fight HIV/AIDS.
“I cannot overemphasize the need for the RH bill, especially with the very specific data I received from our panel. The HIV bill will be more specific in amending the current law that was passed more than 10 years ago but the RH bill will really be the umbrella bill that will give the DOH and agencies a mandate,” Cayetano said.
The senator was referring to the bill that Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago filed last year to reform and upgrade the legal framework on HIV and AIDS.
Cayetano is the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, and the principal sponsor of the RH bill. The RH bill aims to provide access to various types of contraception, and promote sex education and family planning.
The senator reiterated her message in a privilege speech she delivered before the Senate floor on the same day.
Tayag cited the support for the passage of the RH bill as one of the “best practices” to attain the Millennium Development Goal of combatting HIV/AIDS by 2015.
“We want support for the RH bill. I hope it passes,” Tayag said.
In his presentation, Tayag cited a DOH study showing that the unavailability of a condom was the top reason why males who had sex with another male did not use a condom during their last anal sexual encounter. Forty-five percent of the 180 respondents gave this answer.
Also present in the forum were Sen Alan Peter Cayetano and HIV prevention advocate Wanggo Gallaga, who stressed the need to raise awareness on HIV/AIDS.
More males, young people infected
UNAIDS Country Coordinator Teresita Marie Bagasao said that the Philippines is “in the red,” defying global progress in HIV/AIDS. There were 700,000 fewer HIV infections worldwide in 2011 while the AIDS epidemic in the Philippines is on the rise.
“The progress we’re seeing is variable. In Asia and the Pacific region, including in the Philippines, it looks like the current business models for treatment as well as for prevention will not get us to zero [cases] because we are in the red figuratively and literally, in terms of the graphs.”
Bagasao said the expanding HIV epidemic in the Philippines is concentrated in some areas, and is largely sexually transmitted.
Tayag said while there was only one new HIV case every 3 days in 2000, in 2012, the Philippines recorded 9 new cases a day.
Tayag presented the following trends of the HIV epidemic in the Philippines:
- Growing number of infected young people, aged 15 to 24
- Shift from female to male cases (primarily to males having sex with males)
- Shift from locals to OFWs back to locals
Geographically, Tayag said the National Capital Region had the most number of cases in 2012 (51%), followed by Calabarzon (13%), the rest of the country (12%), Central Visayas (11%), Central Luzon (7%), and the Davao Region (6%).
Tayag said the risk factors for HIV are:
- Unprotected sex with more than one sexual partner
- Injecting drugs with used needles and syringes
- If your birth mother was HIV positive
- Transfusion of HIV-infected blood or blood products
The DOH official said the same survey of 180 respondents showed that males having sex with males used social media to hook up with sexual partners.
The study showed that 76% of respondents used social networking sites like Facebook for dating while 74% used social media to have sex with other members of the social networking sites.
‘Window of opportunity’
Bagasao and Tayag said there was a “window of opportunity” to fight HIV/AIDS by focusing on prevention.
Aside from passing the RH bill, Tayag said best practices include universal health care policies and implementation, rapid assessment of areas of concern, an investment plan for HIV/AIDS and Philhealth treatment packages of HIV patients.
For Cayetano, aside from the passage of laws, government must focus on implementing existing laws on HIV/AIDS.
“We need protective laws not only to be enacted but also adequately enforced to achieve our goal of ‘getting to zero’ by 2015,” Cayetano said. – Rappler.com