PARLIAMENTARIANS, activists and health experts have called the prevalence of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the Philippines a national emergency after a United Nations report showed rates of the disease were the highest in the Asia-Pacific region.
They are urging President Rodrigo Duterte’s government to take drastic action, after a UNAIDS report showed the Philippines had seen a 140 percent increase in the number of new HIV infections between 2010 and 2016, from 4,300 to 10,500 cases.
“The government must focus its time and resources on this urgent, life and death matter. We cannot afford to lose our young people to this epidemic,” said Senator Risa Hontiveros, the Senate Committee on Health vice-chair on Wednesday.
Philippines health department data has shown in May 2017 alone, more than 1,000 new cases of HIV-AIDS were reported – the highest number since the heavily Catholic country’s first recorded case in 1984.
About 97 percent of the new cases were transmitted through sexual contact, mostly among men who have sex with men.
“Education on sexuality and safe sex is being neglected, and unfortunately, that takes a toll on the health of our young people. Most new cases are from among people between 15 to 24 years old,” said Hontiveros, as quoted by the state Philippine News Agency.
Head of the AIDS Research Group of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine Dr Rossana Ditangco said within less than ten years, more than 90 percent of those with HIV in the Philippines would be in the below-30 age bracket.
“We can’t control the rapid rise of HIV infection,” she said, as reported by Rappler. “It is time the government treats HIV as a national emergency.”
Human Rights Watch researcher Carlos H. Conde wrote on Tuesday the Philippines’ government must “remove current official obstacles to condom access and usage as well as ensure schools include safer sex and HIV prevention education in the curriculum.”
“Likewise, the government needs to step up its efforts to eliminate stigma and discrimination, which are key factors in discouraging or preventing key affected populations being tested or treated,” he said.
Last week, the Philippines announced a two-year pilot project to offer anti-HIV drugs to the gay and transgender communities, a move welcomed by LGBT activists.