COVID-19 pandemic sets back battle against AIDS – Defensor

Published November 30, 2020, 10:13 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Anakalusugan Representative Mike Defensor said Monday that the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting the Philippines’ fight against the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) as less Filipinos are being tested for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Anakalusugan Party-List Rep. Mike Defensor

Defensor, a vice chairman of the House health committee, raised concern that the decline in the number of HIV cases meant more individuals who may be infected with HIV but are not diagnosed.

“Our fight against AIDS has been set back by the COVID-19 crisis, leaving thousands of Filipinos living with HIV undiagnosed and untreated,” he said in a statement issued on the eve of the World Aids’ Day, December 1.

Citing National AIDS Registry from the Department of Health (DOH), Defensor noted that only 934 new HIV cases were detected in the country from April to June 2020, at the height of lockdowns imposed by the government to curb the COVID-19 transmission.

This was lower by 68 percent from the 2,938 cases recorded in the same period in 2019.

Overall, from January to September this year, only 5,627 new HIV cases were diagnosed, down by 42 percent from the 9,749 discovered in the same period in 2019, the congressman noted.

“There is only one reason for the big drop in newly reported HIV cases – fewer Filipinos who may be living with HIV are actually getting tested,” Defensor said.

“Thus, we may have a larger number of undiagnosed and untreated individuals out there contributing to the spread of HIV, mainly through sexual contact, without them knowing it,” he warned.

The Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the US said HIV attacks the immune system. If not treated, it could result in AIDS, which causes infected persons to get an increasing number of severe illnesses.

Currently, there is no known cure for the virus. Once people get HIV, they have it for life, the CDC said in its website.

Despite this, the DOH said early diagnosis and antiretroviral therapy (ART) would slow down the viral progression to a near halt. Abstinence also reduces the risk of HIV transmission, the agency added.

As of September this year, a total of 45,981 Filipinos living with HIV were undergoing ART, accounting for 57 percent of the 80,434 cases listed in the National AIDS Registry. The registry includes 4,196 reported deaths.