2011-Jan-17, HIV infections rising in some areas of PH, warns UN official

On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the most alarming, the HIV-AIDS problem in the Philippines is now pegged at five.

But it is “already eight to nine in specific sites (nationwide),” according to Teresita Marie Bagasao, country coordinator of the United Nations Program on HIV-AIDS (UNAIDS).

At the national level, only those who are aware of the situation have expressed grave concern over the sharp increase in reported new HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infections, Bagasao told the Inquirer.

HIV leads to AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, a condition in which the body’s immune system is attacked, weakened and disabled by the virus, ultimately leading to death. It is transmitted through sexual contact or transfusions of infected blood.

Many are lulled into a false sense of security by the average national HIV prevalence of under 0.1 percent, Bagasao said.

But there are what she calls “concentrated epidemics” that are being carefully monitored.

Officials in “some places that have reported more than four percent to as much as 53 percent HIV prevalence among its most-at-risk groups are alarmed and are actively pursuing solutions to address their situation,” she said.

Short of millennium goals

With only five years to the deadline to achieve its Millennium Development Goals (MDG), the country continues to fall short of its sixth MDG, which is to halt the spread of the dreaded HIV-AIDS disease, Bagasao emphasized.

Citing official reports, Bagasao disclosed that in the Philippines, new infection rates were going up, not down.

“In the 2010 Global AIDS report released by UNAIDS in late November, the Philippines was one of seven nations in the world which reported more than 25 percent of new HIV infections between 2001 and 2009, whereas other countries have either stabilized or shown significant declines in the rate of new infections,” she noted.

One of two Asian hotspots

Among all countries in Asia, only the Philippines and Bangladesh were now reporting increases in HIV cases, with others either stable or decreasing, said Bagasao.

Late last year, UNAIDS reported that the number of new cases of HIV-AIDS around the world had dropped by about one-fifth over the past decade.

For its part, the Department of Health reported there were 1,305 confirmed new HIV infections during the first 10 months of 2010, compared with 835 for the whole of 2009.

Sex between men accounted for nearly 80 percent of all the 2010 cases, and more than half of those infected were aged between 20 and 29.

Factors contributing to the problem, said Bagasao, were: “Continued risk behaviors and pervasive misconceptions among most-at-risk (sectors)” which point to the inadequacy of current behavior change interventions,” she said.

The UNAIDS official pointed out that though the national AIDS response is backed by Republic Act No. 8504, or the National AIDS Law, the country, through the Philippine National AIDS Council, has yet to define its prevention strategy and set standards of quality. Its program has yet to be operationalized.

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