Suspension of Disbelief

DOH: HIV virus infects 16 Filipinos every day

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VERA Files and Yahoo Philippines | 10 May 2014

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HIV-on-the-riseCases of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection continue to rise in the Philippines.

Data from Department of Health (DOH) shows that HIV is now infecting 16 Filipinos every day, up from last year’s average of seven new patients daily.

Latest DOH data showed that 498 new cases were reported in March this year — the highest recorded in a month since the DOH started tracking HIV cases in the country in 1984.

Of this number, 380 involved MSMs (men who have sex with men); 54 were contracted because of drug use (through injecting); 63 were OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) who had unprotected sex; and one case of mother-to-child transmission.

Since January this year, 1,432 HIV cases have been recorded, 146 of which developed into full-blown AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) and 434 resulted in death.

The DOH also listed the most prevalent areas in the Philippines where new HIV cases were reported: the National Capital Region, Central Luzon, Southern Luzon, Cebu and Davao.

Assistant Health Secretary Eric Tayag said that the DOH is working closely with local governments to help address the problem. He added that the numbers may continue to rise in the coming months since not all persons at risk “are responsible enough” to get themselves tested and that based on their projections, there are still many undetected cases.

“We have continuously informed the public about this, and we are also reminding everyone that they need to be extra careful and conscious about their health,” Tayag said. “We are also appealing to those who are at risk to get themselves tested immediately.”

Those who get infected with the HIV virus remain asymptomatic up to 10 years. They will only have flu-like symptoms which would later disappear.

If an infected person continues to practice a reckless and unhealthy lifestyle, it won’t be long before the virus matures into AIDS and complications would start to manifest. It would be harder for this patient to recover and respond to medications.

The Philippines is currently using the traditional confirmatory test, called the Western blot, to detect if the HIV virus is present in the blood.

If the initial blood test (which is normally done in a hospital or laboratory) turns positive, the result will then be forwarded to the DOH for confirmatory tests. It normally takes 15 to 30 days before the DOH releases its findings and confirmations.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona said the department is exploring the possibility of making the process faster by making rapid HIV test kits available.

“The only problem we see with this rapid testing is that anyone can have it, just like the pregnancy test kits,” Tayag said. “We won’t be able to properly monitor the numbers. The people who will buy these kits will not be counselled by peer educators before they take tests, just like what the hospitals are doing and HIV/AIDS counselling is essential so you’ll know what to do.”

DOH-Assistant-Secretary-Eric-TayagAlthough in recent months the number of people who voluntarily took the test has increased, there is still a great number of people at risk who are not making the effort to know what their status is.

“Secretary Ona would want to shift from voluntary testing to something that’s compulsory,” Tayag said. “We’re working out the details and how this is possible. We want health providers to screen adults who may have a risk for HIV so that they can be properly counselled on what to do next.”

He continued: “In the Philippines, HIV testing is not done like how they’re doing it in other countries. Only some get themselves tested. The only way it can be done is when it is being offered, especially to people who are at risk.”

PLWHAs (persons living with HIV and AIDS) are currently protected by Republic Act 8504, or the Philippines AIDS Prevention and Control Act. All government agencies, medical institutions and individuals are mandated to keep all information regarding PLWHAs confidential. A person or institution found violating this law faces penalties that include imprisonment from two months to four years, and revocation of their licenses and permits.

There is still no permanent cure for HIV and AIDS, but there are ARVs (antiretroviral drugs) available to help slow down the growth and spread of the virus.

The Philippine government is providing free access to ARVs to PLWHAs. PhilHealth allots P30,000 per year for its PLWHA members to cover diagnostics, medications and other hospital needs.

“Some people may think that it’s [sort of] okay to have HIV since the government is giving free medications and that these medications will prolong their lives,” Tayag observed. “Don’t ever think that because for these medications to work, you have to religiously take them for life… all of these have side effects if you do not adhere to the correct ways of how to take them.”

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(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

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