New HIV cases in PH hit all-time high – DOH

Jee Y. Geronimo

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New HIV cases in PH hit all-time high – DOH
With 646 cases recorded in February 2015, the Philippines now has 21 new infections every day

TARLAC, Philippines – A total of 646 new cases of HIV infections were reported in February – the highest number since the Philippines’ first case in 1984, according to the Department of Health (DOH). 

The number – 33% higher than in February 2014 – translates to 21 new infections every day, according to Dr Jose Gerard Belimac, program manager of DOH’s National HIV/STI Prevention Program.

Most of the cases (586 out of 646) were infected through sexual contact. About 84% of the 586 cases are males who have sex with males (MSM).

Other modes of transmission include needle-sharing among injecting drug users (58 cases) and mother-to-child transmission (2 cases).

From 1984 to 2015, a total of 23,709 HIV positive cases and 1,149 deaths were reported. DOH also reported 17 deaths among people with HIV in February 2015, 15 of which are men.

Belimac said HIV is a “concentrated epidemic” – meaning, the Philippines has pockets of administrative areas that has more than 5% of HIV prevalence among specific populations.

The prevalence rate among MSM has dramatically increased since 2007, from 0.30% to 3.50% in 2013. This means 3.5 out of 100 MSM are infected with the virus.

‘Failure in prevention’

Belimac said HIV prevalence among female sex workers is “stable,” and even dropped from 0.13% in 2011 to 0.07% in 2013. 

2007 2009 2011 2013
Female sex workers in registered entertainment establishments 0.0% 0.23% 0.13% 0.07%

Still, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said the Philippines will not meet the HIV/AIDS targets in the 2015 Millennium Development Goals.

“We accept the fact that [HIV] is very different to control because it is behavioral in nature,” Belimac said.

He added, “It does not only entail the support of many government agencies, but support from the people infected, because no matter how we educate them, if they do not cooperate, if they do not change their behaviors, we really can’t control HIV.”

Dr Maria Consorcia Quizon, executive director of non-governmental organization SAFETYNET, said it is unfortunate that HIV cases are increasing at alarming rates in the country even if it is “totally preventable.”

“Every new case is a failure in prevention,” she added. 

Budget for HIV control

Belimac said DOH’s National HIV/STI Prevention Program has a 2015 budget of about P500 million ($11.24 million), 60% of which will go to the treatment of patients.

All social hygienic clinics in the country now offer free HIV testing and counseling, and Belimac said anti-retroviral drugs will soon be available in most clinics. (READ: Proposed mandatory HIV testing not for all Filipinos)

To date, there are a total of 19 HIV treatment hubs in the country. 

Belimac said the department is also studying the possibility of maximizing the sin taxes to support the program – a move that advocates are also pushing for.

Virus background image from Shutterstock

*US$1 = P44.48

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Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.