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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Philippines HIV Epidemic: Well-off Families Can Afford Treatment but What About the Poor?

Filipinos with HIV/AIDS are experiencing a growing number. The Philippines already holds one of the highest numbers of HIV-positive residents in the Asia Pacific region, which is causing alarm among healthcare providers. According to a report released by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, there has been a more than 100% increase in the number of people who are HIV/AIDS positive in just six years.

What is HIV/AIDS?

HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus, is a lentivirus responsible for HIV infections that can later develop into an immunodeficiency syndrome. The virus targets the person’s immune system, which can eventually lead to serious illness or even death.

As of 2017, there is still no cure for HIV, meaning that once you contract the virus, you will have it for life. There are several treatments available, but they are expensive and can only prolong a patient’s life and maintain their health. The treatment, known as antiretroviral therapy or ART, can also reduce the chances of transmission and infection, although it does not guarantee non-transmission.

The Shocking Increase

UNAIDS released a report revealing a total of a 140 percent increase in HIV-infected individuals over the past few years. From 2010 to 2016, approximately 4,300 new infections were recorded, causing concern as the numbers continue to rise.

While the number of new infections may not be as high as in other Asian countries, it is steadily increasing, which opens the possibility of an epidemic, as noted by Eamonn Murphy, the Director of UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia Pacific.

“If HIV programming is redirected 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 stated during his speech.

Philippines Tops Asia Pacific for New HIV Infections

A report from the Philippine Star, released late last month, revealed that the Philippines leads the list of the most HIV-saturated countries in Asia Pacific. According to the 2016 report, 83 percent of recent HIV cases were among males who had intercourse with other males. Transgender women having sex with males also ranked high on the list.

The majority of those infected are transgender women who have sex with males and males who have sex with males, aged 15 to 24. Despite efforts to practice safe sex, the numbers continue to rise.

The Importance of Sex Education in the Philippines

The Philippine school system still lacks the implementation of sex education. While some oppose it, thinking it focuses only on pre-marital sex, sex education covers more than just sex in general.

Sex education can also teach children about hygiene and safety. Teachers can discuss topics that children may be hesitant to talk about with their parents. It can help them understand the impact of sex on their lives.

Breaking the Stigma

The Philippines is widely known as a Catholic country; thus, many are not open to discussions about pre-marital sex. Although condoms and birth control pills are readily available, most Filipinos are hesitant to purchase these forms of birth control.

“In the Philippines, condoms are readily available for retail sale at pharmacies and convenience stores. However, a legal restriction embodied in the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (Republic Act No. 10354, known as the RH Law) prohibits condom purchases by individuals under the age of 18 without parental consent. As a result, retail store employees routinely refuse to sell condoms to youths or demand that they provide identification proving their age, which can be off-putting even for those over 18,” the HRW report said.

Too Shy to Buy

Condoms and birth control pills are openly sold in drug stores and pharmacies, but it has been noted that many HIV-infected individuals are uncomfortable when buying these products. The government takes the rising HIV infections seriously and provides free condoms at public clinics.

“Human Rights Watch spoke to many people with HIV aged 18 to 35 who described their unease when buying condoms. Although the government provides free condoms at public social hygiene clinics (SHCs), which provide no-cost contraceptive supplies and family planning services, many Filipinos will not visit SHCs because they carry a social stigma related to their outreach activities for commercial sex workers,” it added.

The Rich Can Afford Treatment, But What About the Poor?

HIV treatments are known to be expensive. While well-off families can access the best treatments, there are those who struggle to deal with their disease worsening. Some worry about their condition, but the Philippine government has made it a point to provide care for those who cannot afford screening and treatment.

As of 2015, more than 10,000 Filipinos have undergone HIV treatment. They are given free antiretroviral therapy. The Department of Health announced that from 1984 to 2015, 25,684 HIV cases were reported, with 1,214 deaths recorded, and 2,254 progressing to AIDS.

The government has launched an HIV treatment program known as Hi5, aiming to reduce HIV/AIDS by 40 percent in the coming years. Coordination and cooperation are greatly needed to continue the battle against the disease.

Note:

If you suspect you are HIV positive but are hesitant to seek medical attention, please visit the nearest health center in your barangay. Public health centers offer free HIV screenings, and some provide HIV treatment as well.

Year       New cases          

2000       174        

2005       313        

2010       4,424    

2015       7,829    

2019       14,117  

2020       11,875  

2021       12, 341

2022      14,970

2023  (50 new cases per day)

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