The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) conducted a study showing that the Philippines’ number of HIV cases hugely differed from the cases worldwide, now marked with the “fastest growing epidemic” of the sexually transmitted infection.
The country’s cases of new HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infections grow by 203% from 2010-2018.
In contrast, the cases worldwide had dropped by at least 18%.
Pakistan and Malaysia are the only two countries in the Asia-Pacific region with an increase in HIV cases — the former with 57% and the latter with 4%.
Vietnam and Thailand, however, had significant drops by 64% and 59%.
Meanwhile, the Philippines had small number of HIV cases compared with African countries where cases growth rate is the “fastest” in the world with hundreds of thousands cases, said UNAIDS country director Louie Ocampo in a forum on Monday.
The Department of Health (DOH) in June, reported that there are new 6,372 cases recorded since the start of 2019 — increased by 40% from the same period last year.
This new number of cases is 10% of the total reported HIV cases of 68, 401 since 1984.
Ignorance and inaccessibility of contraceptives
Ocampo said the growth of HIV cases in the country largely comes from the vulnerable group of youth.
80% of the total number of people who have HIV are aged 15 to 34, who mostly do not have access to contraceptives or do not know the proper usage of such like condoms.
He added that the wanting of HIV testing and treatment alone does not help in eradicating the spread of the virus.
81% of the total population from 2010 to 2017 catched the virus through male-to-male sex.
Although the usage of condoms is proven to be effective in the prevention of the transmission, Ocampo said 45% of men having sex with men (MSMs) aged 15-24 did not have condoms in their last sex.
Based on the study, only 37% of the youth MSMs have the knowledge of how HIV could be transmitted and prevented.
The provided HIV awareness and available treatments from the local government health centers was respectively low at 35% and 6%.
Ocampo added that MSMs’ “risky behaviors start early but protective behaviors start very late.”
He noted that their first sexual encounter generally occurred at 15 years old, while only at 18 years old that they have learned to use condoms. Then, they had themselves tested at 22 years old.
“This is where the chance of getting infected is very high. The problem here is we are testing [these] young people very late. Most of the time, they are already on the end-stage and there are already several infections,” Ocampo said.
“[By then], providers can only do so much. But if we can diagnose early, without any signs and symptoms, the better the chances are of being virally suppressed early on,” he added.
Give right amount of ART, psychosocial support, and PrEP
By the end of 2018, 77,000 people in the country are living with HIV. However, only 62,000 of them have only been tested, and the remaining 15,000 are neither detected nor diagnosed.
Only half or 33,593 of those diagnosed took antiretroviral treatment (ART).
Ocampo emphasized that local governments should have a higher level of commitment in halting the epidemic, hence to put a functional local AIDS council and set aside an investment plan.
He also said that these people should be provided with psychosocial support.
Ocampo also noted that 19% of those under ART were now out of medications.
He said leaving ART medications unchecked could cause drug resistance among patients, since this should be a lifetime medication.
Destigmatizing and mainstreaming the use of condom, and providing pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) should be prioritized, Ocampo added.
PrEP is currently given by HIV advocacy groups only and not yet by the national government.