HIV in the Philippines
HIV/AIDS in the Philippines continues to be a growing epidemic with an average of 68,000 individuals currently living with HIV, and fewer than half of them are being treated with antivirals. The Philippines now has the fastest growing HIV epidemic in Southeast Asia and in the world, reporting to have about 1,021 new cases of HIV/AIDS infected people in January 2018, with 17 percent of those newly infected individuals already showing signs of advanced infection. Luckily, the Philippines government is taking action to reduce HIV in the Philippines.

How the Philippines Are Addressing HIV/AIDS

In August 2018, a government organization called The League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) signed a partnership with UNAIDS in order to fast track the reduction of the number of new HIV/AIDS infections within the country.

UNAIDS states that for the past seven years, annual, new HIV infections have more than doubled, reaching to about 12,000 in 2017. Because 80 percent of HIV cases are reported within 70 cities in Manila, LCP and local governments in the Philippines are taking direct action regarding this epidemic, pledging to eradicate this disease.

According to Laarni L. Cayetano, the National Chair of LCP, the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Philippines is definitely an issue, stating it “‘needs urgent action among local governments, especially since key populations at risk of infections reside mostly in cities.'”

The Philippines are already beginning to address this issue by starting more innovative services to prevent HIV. Quezon City, for example, has continued to increase HIV funding since 2012 in order to build three clinics that now provide rapid, judgment-free HIV testing and counseling for those who are infected.

The Department of Health

The Department of Health (DOH) has launched a tri-beauty pageant, specifically a “Lhive Free Campaign,” in Quezon City in order to find ambassadors in the prevention of HIV/AIDS among youth. With DOH’s desire to reduce HIV in the Philippines, this campaign serves as a message to the people as well as provides free, early detection methods and free medications needed for those infected.

Beauty Queen and Actress Kylie Verzosa, who was crowned Miss International in 2016 and is currently a DOH ambassador, also supports this campaign and pageant. Although Verzosa is known for her advocacy on mental health, she also shares a passion to spread awareness of HIV/AIDS and promote its prevention. She sees HIV as a physical, emotional, and mental health concern, considering that depression and anxiety can be developed in an HIV patient struggling to live with this condition.

The DOH and World Health Organization (WHO) in the Philippines previously held free, anonymous HIV screenings in the workplace for more than 400 people, DOH staff members and walk-ins alike. They provided eight different stations located throughout the DOH grounds. This service not only helped to promote HIV/AIDS testing as a strategy to fight against this epidemic but it is also important, according to Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque, for DOH staff members to know their own HIV status as they are encouraging others to seek treatment.

Other Groups Working to Prevent HIV/AIDS

Other departments and organizations are working to help decrease the HIV/AID epidemic in the Philippines. Dr. Edsel Maurice T. Salvana, the director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at The National Institutes of Health (NIH) at the University of the Philippines, reports that the NIH is researching and working on the molecular epidemiology of HIV viruses that appear to be drug-resistant. The NIH is also offering a variety of services for those infected in this country, such as HIV drug-resistance testing and genotyping, helping to end the further increase of the disease.

The Human Rights Watch also provided recommendations regarding the government’s approach to reduce HIV in the Philippines. The group suggests implementing further HIV prevention education within schools, providing access to condoms, destigmatizing the infection and reinitializing harm reduction programs that focus on injecting drug use.

The LCP partnership with UNAIDS serves as an opportunity and a push to help end the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country. As governments vow to reduce HIV in the Philippines, improvements in the health of the people the country will increase substantially. Advocating for and addressing this issue will not only encourage citizens to seek available treatments but it can also prevent the further spread of HIV/AIDS in the Philippines in the future.

Charlene Frett
Photo: Flickr