HIV an ‘epidemic among high-risk groups’ in 8 PH cities; P600M sought to stop virus
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) said on Wednesday it has sought to double the budget allocation for the control and prevention of human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV) to P600 million in 2016 as the country has breached the United Nations’ five-percent threshold of disease incidence among high-risk groups.
At the HIV Partners’ Forum on Wednesday, the health agency sounded the alarm over the increasing number of HIV cases in the country, saying that if the government and stakeholders did not invest in preventing new HIV infections, figures would reach 133,000 by 2022. HIV leads to the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, a condition that weakens and destroys the body’s defences from infections and diseases,ultimately leading to death.
Health officials attributed the steady rise of HIV cases—aside from increased surveillance and free access to screening—to the low level of correct and comprehensive knowledge of HIV and the dismal condom use among vulnerable populations, particularly males having sex with males.
Health Secretary Janette Garin said HIV cases at 133,000 six years from now would cost the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. P4 billion a year for the outpatient HIV package alone and would continue to increase each year if new infections were not curbed.
“We need to strengthen our partnership with other government agencies such as the Department of Education, as well as community-based organizations in order to reach the young key populations with correct information,” said Garin.
At a press conference, the DOH revealed findings of its study on the state of the HIV epidemic in the Philippines, showing that the Millennium Development Goal indicator of “correct and comprehensive knowledge on HIV prevention and transmission” remained low for all key populations.
It showed that the country failed to reach its target of 80 percent in comprehensive knowledge of the disease by high-risk groups. Only 40 percent of males and transgender who have sex with males, female sex workers and people who inject drugs show extensive knowledge of HIV.
The study also revealed that HIV cases among males and transgenders having intercourse with males have multiplied 10 times over the last five years, breaching the UN five percent threshold in this group.
Five percent is the UN’s borderline to declare an area as having a concentrated epidemic, according to the DOH.
The prevalence of HIV is currently above five percent in eight cities in the country, which the DOH identified as Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Puerto Princesa, Davao, Quezon City, Parañaque and Makati. In Cebu City, HIV prevalence has reached 14 percent, it said.
Health Undersecretary Vicente Belizario Jr. said on Wednesday the use of condom among high-risk groups has reached only 44 percent, only halfway to the target set by the Philippines at 80 percent.
The 2015 Integrated HIV Behavioral and Serologic Surveillance showed that the top reason for low condom use was its unavailability at 54 percent followed by rejection of using condoms during sexual activity at 21 percent and a small portion, at four percent, forgetting to use condom.
“Based on the survey done this year, 54 percent said condoms were not available. That is no longer true [because] condoms are readily accessible, prioritizing hotspots and we also give to not-so hotspots,” said Belizario.
“This is the information that they need to know, that condoms are available in the centers designated where these need to be distributed,” he added.
For next year, it was allocating P10 million for condoms and lubricants, which a big bulk will distributed in HIV “hotspots.”
Belizario said the DOH was asking Congress a budget allocation for next year of P600 million for HIV control and prevention from over P300 million approved this year. A major portion of the budget will also be used for the purchase of antiretroviral drugs.
“We hope that this will be granted by Congress and signed by President Aquino before his term ends [because we need] extraordinary measures with this extraordinary period wherein we are seeing an increase in HIV cases,” said the DOH official. SFM
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