MANILA, Philippines -- The number of new infections in the Philippines has more than doubled in the past six years from an estimated 4,300 in 2010 to an estimated 10,500 in 2016, according to a United Nations AIDS agency report released on Tuesday.
With a recorded 140-percent increase of HIV cases during the six-year period, the Joint UN Nations Program on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) said the Philippines has become a country with the fastest growing HIV epidemic in Asia and the Pacific, and has become one of eight countries that account for more than 90 percent of new HIV infections annually in the region.
While the Philippines has the fastest growing epidemic in terms of percentage increase, the agency said the number of new infections is not as high as several countries in the region which are estimated to have tens of thousands of new infections annually.
"The Philippines has a small window of opportunity to act and stop a major HIV epidemic from taking hold," said Eamonn Murphy, director of UNIADS Regional Support Team for Asia-Pacific.
"If HIV programming is re-directed to focus on the people most at risk and where they are located, I'm sure the country can not only return to a stable situation but even end the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030," Murphy added.
While the Philippines has controlled the HIV epidemic among female sex workers, the agency said it noted a shift in the epidemic in 2007 in the Philippines, and has therefore scaled-up services tailored to other key risk populations.
"The Philippine data showed that in 2016, 83 percent of newly reported HIV cases occurred among males who have sex with males (MSM) and transgender women who have sex with males (TGW)," the agency said, adding that majority of the new infections are occurring among 15 to 24 old MSM and TGW.
In 2015, the agency said only 35 percent of 15 to 24 years old MSM and TGW had correct knowledge of HIV transmission and prevention.
"Condom use among MSM and TGW has increased from 36 percent in 2011 to 50 percent in 2015. The percentage of MSM and TGW who knew their HIV status by getting tested increased from 5 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2015; however this still remains low," the agency said.
It said the strategy is to focus on 117 cities where 80 percent of the new infections have been reported and to open in each such city at least one HIV clinic which has convenient evening hours for working people, and is a one-stop shop that provide prevention, counseling, laboratory work-up, and treatment services.
The Philippine Department of Health is providing anti-retroviral medicine for free to anyone who tests positive for HIV, as well as other out-patient services to maximum of 30,000 pesos (600 U.S. dollars) a year per person, the agency said.
Between 2013 and 2015, the agency said the government increased funding for the HIV program, and now shoulders 70 percent of all financing for its response.
"HIV is one of the top health priorities for the government of the Philippines," said Philippine Health Secretary Jean Ubial, adding the government is implementing programs which will have positive impact.
Source: NAM NEWS NETWORK