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HIV-AIDS: A FAST GROWING MENACE IN THE PHILIPPINES

By EDUARDO GONZALES

Until 2010,the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)—the microorganism that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)—in our country has been described as “low and slow,” because the prevalence rate of the virus is low and its transmission rate is slow.  Indeed, from Jan. 1984—when the first HIV/AIDS case was reported in the Philippines—up to Dec. 2010 (a period of 21 years) only a little over six thousand cases were recorded in the HIV-AIDS registry of our Department of Health (DOH).

Things have since changed, however. Whereas new HIV infections have been decreasing worldwide since 2001, the Philippines persists asone of a handful of countries where the incidence of the infection is on the rise.In fact,according to the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) we have become the country with the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the whole world. The UN organization recorded about 13,384 new HIV infections in 2018. This number is 203 percent higher than the new infections recorded in 2010, which stood at 4,419.

Although HIV is spreading fast in the Philippines, but in terms of number of infected people, our figures are not that alarming yet.The UNAIDS estimates that there are now about 77,000 people living with HIV (PLHIV) in the Philippines. Since our population is estimated at 108 million, our HIVprevalence rate is less than 0.1 percent, which is really still very low. Nevertheless, the HIV-AIDS scourge in our country cannot be ignored anymore, because if the current trend continues, the UNAIDS estimates that the Philippines might have 201,000 PLHIVs in just eight years.

Modes of HIV transmission in the Philippines

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a very fragile virus that can only survive within the body. Consequently, it can only be transmitted by sexual contact with an infected person, sharing needles and/or syringes (among drug users), transfusion of contaminated blood or blood products, being pricked with a needle containing infected blood or contact of broken skin or mucous membrane with infected blood; and, an infected woman to her baby, before or during birth or through breastfeeding.

From January to December 2018, the AIDS registry of our DOH recorded 11,427 new HIV cases. Of these, 10,573 (92.5 percent) were males, a little over half (5,756) were in the 24 to 35 years old age bracket while 30 percent (3,391) were in the 15 to 24 years old bracket.

Clearly, among Filipinos, those who have the highest risk for HIV are the male millennials. The registry also documented that currently, the mode of transmission of HIV among Filipinos is mainly through sexual contact.  Male-male sex accounts for 60 percent of new infections. Another 25 percent is accounted for by male sex with males and females while 13 percent is due to male-female sex.

Prevention of HIV transmission

HIV transmission can easily be prevented by refraining from practices that puts one at risk of acquiring the disease, which for the average person basically means: 1) indulging only in monogamous sex, or short of that, by practicing safe sex, which essentially means using condoms during the sex act; and, 2) refraining from using illegal drugs.

Unfortunately, despite the widespread worldwide publicity about HIV, the level of awareness about its transmission and prevention in this country is still low, especially among the youth. This is attested to by studies which found out that among 15 to 25 years old males who have sex with males, 50 percent do not use condoms and one major reason they don’t isthey do not think that they are at risk.

The UNAIDS said that the spread of HIV in the Philippines could be halted with: intensified comprehensive prevention; increase HIV testing and coverage; and, early initiation of treatment and adherence to treatment.

Treatment of HIV

There’s no cure for HIV/AIDS, but several classes of drugs are available to control the virus. Usually, a combination of three drugs from two classes is used to avoid creating drug-resistant strains of HIV.  The drug treatment for HIV is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). New antiretroviral drugs have significantly improved the outlook for PLHIV over the past two decades. In 1996, the total life expectancy for a 20-year-old person with HIV was 39 years. In 2011, the total life expectancy has increased to about 70 years. Many PLHIV can now live much longer, healthier lives when regularly taking antiretroviral treatment.

By the way, the DOH runs more than 50 facilities in the country that perform HIV testing and dispense ART for free.

See more at: Manila Bulletin

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