HIV in 6 PH cities may reach 'uncontrollable' rates – DOH

TARLAC, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) has warned that an HIV "concentrated epidemic" in 6 Philippine cities – half found in Metro Manila – may reach "uncontrollable" levels in a couple of years without the active cooperation of the public.

Dr Jose Gerard Belimac, program manager of DOH's National HIV/STI Prevention Program, made the statement in a presentation in an epidemiology workshop conducted by the DOH on Thursday, April 9.

The DOH identified the 6 cities and their corresponding prevalence rate among males who have sex with males (MSM) as the following:

"According to [the World Health Organization], ‘pag lumagpas yan ng 5%, in a matter of two years' time, the HIV in these areas will really be uncontrollable already so lessons learned, huwag po talagang hayaan na umabot ng 5% yung HIV prevalence in any of the cities,” Belimac said in his presenation.

(According to the World Health Organization, if [the prevalence rate] exceeds 5%, in a matter of two years' time, the HIV in these areas will really be uncontrollable already so lessons learned, let us not allow the HIV prevalence in any of the cities to reach 5%.)

This is based on experiences of other countries like Thailand, he said in an interview at the sidelines of the workshop, when asked to clarify his statement. (READ: Know more about HIV with your mobile phone)

Caloocan city 'most problematic'

Belimac said Caloocan is the "most problematic" city with a high HIV prevalence rate because most infections happen among male sex workers.

In Manila, most infections happen among males who have casual sex with other males.

The table below shows other high risk areas in the country:

The DOH reported a total of 646 new cases of HIV infections in February – the highest number since the Philippines' first case in 1984. This number translates to 21 new infections every day. 

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

Belimac said the HIV 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.

On condom use to prevent HIV infection, Belimac said in Filipino, "We cannot force those who don't want to use condoms."

He said that the condom use prevalence among MSM is at 35% – far from the government target of 80%.

The DOH is currently doing behavioral, bio-medical, and structural interventions to control HIV infections among Filipino MSM. 

The health department'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.

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 Rappler.com

HIV blood collection image via Shutterstock

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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.

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