'32 Filipinos test positive for HIV-AIDS daily'

ILOCOS SUR, Philippines – Unless steps are taken, the number of Filipinos living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) will exceed a quarter of a million by 2030. 

And based on current trends, Dr. Joselito Feliciano, director of the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC), said that majority of new infections were also likely to be teenagers and young adults aged 15 to 24 years old.

Feliciano said the PNAC estimates about 265,900 cases of Filipinos HIV/AIDS in the next decade if not enough is done by the government and individuals to address the growing epidemic.

He added that in 2018, as many as 32 people were diagnosed with HIV-AIDS every day. The number is a stark contrast the the 2 new cases reported daily in 2008, 13 in 2013, and 22 in 2015.

Talking during a forum of health journalists, Feliciano said majority of new infections were among those 25 to 39 years old.

The PNAC's grim scenario comes as the DOH earlier said the Philippines had one of the ‘fastest growing’ HIV epidemics in the world with 57,134 cases recorded from January 1984 to July 2018.

Feliciano also said majority of the new cases were HIV infections transmitted sexually. This topped the number of cases as compared to other means of acquiring the infection such as sharing contaminated needles or from birth should a mother be infected with HIV.

Hidden cases: Yet the number of people with HIV-AIDS may be higher, Feliciano said, as current data was only showed individuals who were tested in health centers.

Based on estimates, marami pa yung meron,” he said. (Based on estimates, there are more [cases of infection]).

In July 2018, about 859 new cases were recorded by the PNAC. Majority of these cases were  in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and Calbarzon.

These were also among males who had sex with males, which the DOH refers to as MSMs. (INFOGRAPHIC: How is HIV transmitted?)

Feliciano said infections do not only cover gay men, but also any male who has sex with another male for whatever reason, may be at risk.

STIGMA. PNAC Director Dr Joselito Feliciano says stigma aroung HIV-AIDS hinders people from getting proper information on the illness and how it can be prevented. Photo by Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler

STIGMA. PNAC Director Dr Joselito Feliciano says stigma aroung HIV-AIDS hinders people from getting proper information on the illness and how it can be prevented.

Photo by Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler

Why the rise in cases? Feliciano said one factor for the upsurge of HIV-AIDS was the lack of knowledge and information on how the infection is transmitted and could be prevented.

Data from the 2017 National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) showed a slight decrease in awareness from 21% in 2007 to 20% in 2017.

Moreover, access to and the use condoms were also challenges. The DOH emphasized “correct and consistent” use of condoms ensured safe sex and could prevent HIV-AIDS.

Based on the DOH’s 2015 Integrated HIV Behavioral Serologic Surveillance, Feliciano said 60% of respondents aged 15 to 17 years old said condoms were not easy to get in their communities. Such was also the case for nearly 50% of respondents aged 18 to 24 years old and about 40% of those 25 years and older.

Many also said they did not buy or receive condoms.

Apart from this, Feliciano also said stigma around the issue prevented many from buying condoms when available.

Yung iba kahit gusto nila mag condom, kahit may pambili sila, nahihiya sila kasi yung culture ng Pinoy. Nahihiya sila bumili sa 7/11. Kaya nga ngayon siyempre controversial yung condom, hindi basta basta makapag gawa access for condoms,” he said.

(Even for those who wanted to use condoms and could buy them were ashamed because of Pinoy culture. They’re ashamed even to but in 7/11s. Condoms are controversial and its not easy to make them accessible.)

Get tested: Despite this, the health department maintained it was crucial for people to get tested for HIV-AIDS.

“People living with HIV can look healthy… HIV testing is the only way to know your status,” Feliciano said. (INFOGRAPHIC: Why you should get an HIV test)

“This (HIV-AIDS) is a practice, it’s a behavior…na hindi isang iglap mawawala. Dapat paulit ulit natin i-repeat yung tamang information para…sa mga minds ng tao na ito yung dapat gawin,” he said.

(This doesn't just vanish. We should keep repeating in giving out the correct information for people will know the right thing to do.)

Testing, he said, was also important because it would lead those with the infection to receive treatment. “The DOH provides free medicines or what we call the antiretroviral therapy and this would make them live longer, healthy, normal lives,” he said. (READ: How can we help end the negative impact of HIV?)

He added, “We should encourage [people]…. To get tested and know their status and then lead them to care.”

Feliciano also said correct information on the infection should be given to decrease stigma against HIV-AIDS. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

image