The Philippines has the highest growth rate of the total number of persons infected by Human Immunodeficiency (HIV), according to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS). The UN Organization has reported that there is an increase of 203 percent from 2010, with 4,419, to 2018, with 13,384. Although the total number is still low compared to African countries, which have more than 20 million, it was still quite alarming.
The estimated total reported cases were 62,029, but Dr. Louie Ocampo, UNAIDS Philippines director, claimed that there were possibly 15,000 more people who are not yet detected. Based on the report of the Philippines’s Department of Health, 39% of the total people living with HIV (PLHIV) came from the National Capital Region (NCR). The region of CALABARZON follows with 15%, then Central Visayas with 9%. As of 2019, there were about 1,200 deaths that are linked to AIDS.
The cluster of “male-to-male sex” has also increased significantly. Forty percent of the recorded cases on the first wave, recorded from 1984 to 2009, came from this group. It has risen up to 80 percent on the second wave, which is between 2010 to 2017. As for the age cluster, Dr. Ocampo said that the demographics are “getting younger and younger.” At least 19,000 came from the age group of 15 to 24, while 34,000 are on aged 25 to 34. Combining this two compromised the 80 percent of the population.
BUT WHY THE YOUTH?
Dr. Ocampo said that more than half from this age group, especially men who have sex with fellow men, claimed that they refused to use condoms, which is an “affordable but very effective in preventing HIV transmission”. Dr. Regina Berba, HIV and AIDS Core Team of the Medical City, cited machismo, inaccessibility, and overconfidence as among the reasons for refusing to use condoms. Other factors blamed are the lack of public awareness about transmission and prevention, and low youth engagement in policy. Outdated laws that are still implemented only focus on prohibitive measures, and inaccessibility of safe space, and health facilities.
For this, Ocampo and the Philippine chapter of UNAIDS were pushing to amend the current AIDS law in the country. Among the major revisions include lowering the age of consent of HIV testing. The UNAIDS stressed that relying on the current HIV intervention tactics could increase the total infection cases to 201,000 in just eight years, so it must be changed. Among the changes, they wanted to include “intensified comprehensive program, increase HIV testing and coverage, early initiation of treatment, and adherence to treatment.” There are about 37.9 million PLHIV around the world, and 1.7 million of these are children below 15 years old.