AIDS rise imperils MDG targets of PH, warns UNBy Philip C. Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The United Nations (UN) warned on Friday that the Philippines was not on target to meet its Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of stopping the spread of human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) in the country.
Marking World AIDS Day, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said the Philippines was one of only nine countries where the number of new HIV infections were increasing by more than 25 percent.
It said that Philippines was also one of only three countries in the Asia Pacific Region that “is now categorized as having an expanding (HIV) epidemic.”
Worse, the coverage of HIV prevention programs among Filipino males who have sex with other males (MSM)—the sector where most of the new infections are being detected—is “below 25 percent, compared to other countries whose program coverage is more than 75 percent.”
“The United Nations in the Philippines notes these trends with increasing concern, as the timeline for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 draws near,”
UNAIDS said in a statement.
“The United Nations Country Team in the Philippines recognizes that MDG 6, specifically to halt and reverse the spread of HIV by 2015, is among the MDGs least likely to be attained,” it added.
The United Nations Childrens Fund (Unicef) is “also concerned” that a third of new HIV infections in the country are reported among young people aged 15-24 years, “mostly from key populations, namely males who have sex with other males, people who inject drugs and people engaged in sex work.”
“Young people and adolescents access HIV testing facilities much less than their older counterparts. Key populations may get pregnant or may have female partners who get pregnant, with the risk of transmitting HIV to the baby, UNAIDS said.
“By definition, an AIDS-free generation depends on protecting the youngest and most vulnerable from HIV infection,” Unicef Executive Director Anthony Lake said.
UNAIDS added that “much more needs to be done” to halt and reverse the further spread of HIV, specifically “among key populations who have been least reached, such as those that are young or pregnant.”
The Philippine HIV and AIDS Registry showed that there were 316 new cases in September with 54 percent of them coming from the National Capital Region (NCR).
“This was 25 percent higher compared to the same period last year. Most of the cases (96 percent) were males. The median age was 28 years (age range: 16-70 years). The 20-29 year (57 percent) age-group had the most number of cases,” the DOH said.
It said 312 of the new HIV cases were infected through sexual contact while only four cases were due to injecting illegal drugs.
“Males having sex with other males (82 percent) were the predominant type of sexual transmission (and) most (97 percent) of the cases were still asymptomatic at the time of reporting,” the DOH said.
It added that that 2,466 new HIV cases had been reported this year, with 126 of them being reported as full-blown AIDS cases. 98 percent of these AIDS cases were acquired through sexual contact.
No funds vs AIDS
Health Secretary Enrique Ona admitted that the government did not have enough funds to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS.
“That’s true. We really have a deficiency… In almost all of our health needs, we have deficiencies. I wish I could have all the money to fight HIV-AIDS,” Ona said.
But Ona quickly added that the government was doing its best with the finite resources it had to stop the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
“We need a very aggressive program. However, more important is the strategy we should use and the data we will use. Our law is very, very strict with regards to privacy (of people with HIV),” Ona said.
“Another fact is 70 percent of HIV (cases) are spread because of men having sex with men. So, our strategy should be modified in such a way that the vulnerable are informed while making sure privacy is maintained. And we are doing that now,” he added.
However, the Network to Stop AIDS-Philippines (NSAP) said the government should put its money where its mouth is. It added that there was an annual funding gap of P548 million in the efforts to stop the spread of HIV in the Philippines.