HIV in the PhilippinesThe Philippines is designated as a quickly growing epicenter of the HIV epidemic. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, HIV in the Philippines was surging, largely due to their poor healthcare system. There is fear that the COVID-19 pandemic may exacerbate such difficulties due to restricted public transportation, the establishment of checkpoints and consequently, the inaccessibility of treatment.

While the COVID outbreak has many downsides, it may provide an opportunity to improve HIV services in the Philippines. Advocacy groups, community-based organizations and volunteers are now uniting to foster innovative solutions for the HIV epidemic.

The Philippines’ Department of Health Adopts Telemedicine

Travel and physical distancing restrictions have disrupted the supply and distribution of antiretroviral drugs; these drugs are essential for Filipino people living with HIV (PLHIV). Therefore, the Philippines’ Department of Health (DOH) recommends HIV facilities adopt an online courier service. This would ensure access to treatment while minimizing the risk of patient and staff exposure to COVID-19. This method allows PLHIV to choose their preferred medicine pick-up location and time through a mobile application.

The DOH’s plan for app-based medication distribution is key to enhancing the quality of HIV treatment and counseling. This app also improves HIV healthcare for the post-COVID world. However, this is not the only way Filipinos are improving HIV healthcare. Officials are working to give community-based organizations opportunities to participate in the DOH’s endeavors. These efforts are a favorable step towards the efficient mitigation of HIV in the Philippines.

Community-Based Organizations Revamping the Philippines’ HIV Healthcare Services

Network Plus Philippines, Pinoy Plus Advocacy Pilipinas, Red Whistle and TLF Share Collective are coordinating to implement a new guideline issued by the Philippines’ DOH. The guideline guarantees that PLHIV will receive their medicine through courier services, focusing on PLHIV in rural communities. Examples of contributions from community-based organizations are listed below:

  1. Red Whistle: Red Whistle mobilized 40 volunteers to collect antiretroviral refills from treatment facilities and deliver them across the country. It has worked with local authorities to avoid disclosure of confidential clientele information and partnered with MapBeks, an online mapping community, to create the #OplanARVayanihan: a map showing the nearest antiretroviral drug centers and delivery options.
  2. TLF Share Collective: TLF Share Collective has helped to deliver antiretroviral therapy to Filipinos. It has developed a tool to monitor medication delivery by community volunteers and created FAQ-cards for patients.
  3. Pinoy Plus Advocacy Pilipinas: PPAP has established a PLHIV Response Center where people with HIV can ask for information about accessible treatment hubs and advice on antiretroviral therapy.

International Assistance

In addition to the community-based organizations’ efforts to eliminate HIV in the Philippines, the international community has also provided guidance through programming and financing.

For example, UNAIDS has coordinated with The United Nations Development Programme to advise the Philippines’ Government on how to manage their HIV problem in the context of COVID. The UN’s creation of an analytical survey has revealed valuable information on the issues affecting PLHIV. These issues range from concerning factors like the feeble safeguarding of human rights to a lack of access to mental health and social protection services.

Similarly, USAID, The U.S. Agency for International Development, is collaborating with the Filipino government to assist them in establishing universal health care. Together, they are addressing legislative and institutional obstacles within their health financing system. The USAID’s services include prevention programming and case identification to strengthen epidemic control; funding streams from the Department of Health and local health budgets that align with UHC Law Provisions; and estimates for total future domestic investment requirements.

While COVID-19 presented a scope of challenges for HIV treatment and care services, it also propelled community-based organizations, the Filipino Government and international institutions to cooperate and execute innovative policies. The Philippines’ healthcare system will continue to combat HIV and become a robust system devoid of the defects that COVID-19 highlighted.

Joy Arkeh
Photo: Flickr