By Analou De Vera
The Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) has attributed the lack of knowledge and information and risky behavior for the upsurge in the prevalence of cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the country.
“It’s the risky behavior kaya nagkakaroon ng HIV. Hindi dapat inili-link sa ano mang klase ng organization, practice, or work,” said Dr. Joselito Feliciano, director of the PNAC during a media conference in Vigan City, Ilocos Sur.
Feliciano said that the public should be given the right information regarding how HIV is being transmitted and can be prevented.
“It’s a behavior… na hindi sa isang iglap mawawala. Dapat paulit-ulit natin fine-feed yung tamang information para… sa mga minds ng tao na ito yung dapat gawin,” he said.
[This behavior does not easily vanish. We should keep on repeating in feeding out the right information for people to know that this is the right thing to do. ]
In July 2018 alone, there were 859 new cases of HIV that have been recorded in the country, bringing the total number of HIV positive cases in the Philippines to 57,134 since the first case of infection was detected in January 1984.
Meanwhile, an average of 32 Filipinos are diagnosed with HIV every day, said Feliciano.
The Department of Health (DOH) said that sexual contact remains the predominant mode of HIV transmission in the Philippines.
“From 1984 to 2006, the predominant mode of transmission was male-female sex. From 2007, the trend shifted to sexual contact among MSM (males who have sex with males) as the predominant mode of transmission and has remained as such to the present,” the DOH said.
Citing a report from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Feliciano said that HIV epidemic is expanding in both the Philippines and Pakistan, while their neighboring countries in the Asia-Pacific region particularly Cambodia, India, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam have posted major reduction in HIV infection.
Treatment and prevention
Feliciano noted that there is no cure nor a vaccine yet for HIV. He emphasized that there is anti-retroviral treatment (ART), urging those diagnosed with HIV to take advantage of free treatment in DOH-designated HIV treatment facilities.
Feliciano noted that ART does not eliminate the HIV infection but slows down the progression of the virus in the body. The treatment will help people with HIV to live longer and healthier; and it reduces the risk of transmission.
Feliciano said that there are means to prevent acquiring HIV infection called ABC; these are abstinence, be faithful to your partner, and correct and consistent use of condoms and practice safe sex.
The Roman Catholic officials in the country, meanwhile, strongly opposes the use of contraceptives. However, Feliciano said that the Church is now helping the health department in raising awareness on HIV.
“The Church has its own stand on this. The good thing now kasama na rin natin yung Catholic Church sa mga programang ginagawa natin. Like for example yung ABC, tinuturo na rin ito ng Catholic Church but not letter C, not condom, they change C with conscience or correct knowledge,” said Feliciano.
Feliciano noted that although condoms are available in convenience stores, some people are “embarrassed” to purchase it.
“Kasi yung iba kahit gusto nila mag condom, kahit may pambili sila, nahihiya sila kasi yung culture ng Pinoy […] hindi tulad sa States sa mga bar, sa cr napaka accessible ng mga condoms,” said Feliciano.
Feliciano said that it is important for people to know their HIV status.
“We should encourage those [people]… to get tested and know their status and then lead them to care,” he added.
Role of other government agencies
Feliciano said that aside from the health department, other government agencies have also a responsibility to raise awareness on HIV.
The official added said that HIV cases in the country may reach 265, 900 in the next decade if the government will not have enough programs to address the problem.
“It’s really a development problem at kailangan magtulungan ang ahensya ng pamahalaan at mga civil society organizations,” he said.