THERE is an unspoken crisis happening in the Philippines—a crisis that could cause more Filipino deaths than Typhoon Yolanda and the war on drugs combined.
While the rest of the world is seeing a decline in the number of new HIV infections, the trend in the Philippines is going in the opposite direction. Yet there seems to be a slow-paced response to this looming crisis from both government and the Catholic Church.
At the end of 2016, there were 10,500 Filipinos infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), up from 4,300 in 2010, Health Minister Paulyn Ubial told a news conference, citing data from UNAIDS. That’s a whopping 148 percent increase just in the last six years.
The Department of Health (DoH) has been recording cases of HIV/AIDS in the Philippines since January 1984. To date, it has tallied 44,010 cases of Filipinos with HIV/AIDS.
From 1984 to 2017, over 2,000 HIV/AIDS-related deaths have been reported. While the number is relatively low, what’s greatly alarming is the fact that there are now as many as 30 Filipinos infected with HIV per day.
But even these official numbers do not tell the whole story. The data is based on records of those who have been tested for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS, as confirmed by a central government laboratory at the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila.
Testing and screening
Mandatory HIV testing under any circumstance is unlawful in the Philippines. Some legislators have tried to address the issue, but some proposals seem to be misguided, like Senate Bill 376 introduced by Sen. Risa Hontiveros to allow HIV testing of minors even without parental consent. Some community advocates are concerned about the issues of counseling, stigma and family support for minors who might test positive.
Male-to-male sex remains to be the main mode of HIV transmission in the Philippines, according to DoH data. Of 38,114 HIV cases reported from January 1984 to October 2016, a total of 28,947 belonged to the MSM category.
Even among overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), more than half of the 4,000 plus cases of HIV infection were among those who engaged in male-male sex, as well as those who had sex with both male and female.