MANILA, Philippines?Washington is ?watching very closely? the HIV-AIDS problem in the Philippines, one of its closest allies in Asia, according to the country head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
Gloria D. Steele, USAID mission director, said ?the number of (HIV infections in the Philippines) is still small, but the rate of growth is problematic.?
?We?re watching that very closely and making sure our information campaign?letting people know what the implications are, what could happen, how you can prevent it?is well known,? Steele told the Inquirer.
In an interview, Steele, a Filipino-American, said: ?We need to be worried about the spread of the disease. We need to be concerned, and we need to make sure that it does not spread.?
?But unlike in most countries in Africa where it?s really a big problem, it?s not yet a generalized epidemic (in the Philippines). It is limited to intravenous drug users and to men having sex with men. Basically, those two groups,? she said.
Steele said the US government was doing its part in the campaign against HIV-AIDS ?in close coordination with the Department of Health (DoH).?
Between 2008 and 2010, USAID allocated $85.8 million (about P3.72 billion) for health-related projects in the Philippines, including the prevention of HIV-AIDS and emerging pandemic diseases, and the promotion of voluntary family planning.
The 6th MDG
In a report, the agency said ?communication plays an integral part in an effective response to health challenges.?
USAID ?works with health officials and health service providers to inform the public of appropriate health practices, signs and symptoms of common health disorders, availability of health services and national and local health policies,? it said.
With only five years to the deadline to achieve its Millennium Development Goals (MDG), the Philippines continues to fall short of its sixth MDG, which is to halt and reverse the spread of the dreaded HIV-AIDS, said Teresita Marie Bagasao, country coordinator of the United Nations Program on HIV-AIDS (UNAIDS).
Citing official reports, including from the DOH, Bagasao said that in the Philippines new infection rates were going up, not down.
In the 2010 Global AIDS report released by UNAIDS in November, the Philippines was one of seven countries that reported a more than 25 percent rise in new HIV infections between 2001 and 2009, while other countries had either stabilized or significantly lowered the rate of new infections.
Among all countries in Asia, only the Philippines and Bangladesh reported increases in HIV cases.
The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, leads to AIDS, short for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, a condition in which the body?s immune system is attacked, weakened and disabled by the virus, ultimately leading to death.
In the Philippines, anti-HIV-AIDS programs ?remain either unfunded or under-funded and have not been able to keep up with the change and pace in HIV transmission,? observed Bagasao.
She said ?more than half of program funding comes from external sources,? like the Global Fund.
The programs ?need a clear investment plan to address not only resource gaps but also sustainability of existing efforts,? she stressed.
?Overall, it is largely a health-focused response ? other sectors need to step up their responses to the problem,? Bagasao said.