No, things are not getting better.
The HIV situation of the country continues to worsen; this even as the government continues to falter in providing life-saving antiretroviral medicines to those already living with HIV in the country.
In June 2019, the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP) reported 1,006 newly confirmed HIV-positive individuals. Nineteen percent (194) had clinical manifestations of advanced HIV infection (WHO clinical stage 3 or 4) at the time of diagnosis.
More than a third (34%, 346) were from the National Capital Region (NCR). Region 4A (15%, 155), Region 3 (11%, 114), Region 7 (8%, 78), and Region 6 (6%, 56) comprised the top five regions with the most number of newly diagnosed cases for the month, accounting for 74% of the total.
YOUNG STILL MOST AFFECTED
Notably, 296 (29%) cases were among youth 15-24 years old; 95% were male. Almost all (99%, 295) were infected through sexual contact (25 male-female sex, 193 male-male sex, 77 sex with both males and females).
Further broken down, there were 54 newly-diagnosed adolescents (10-19 years old at the time of diagnosis). Further, nine cases were 15-17 years old, and 45 cases were 18-19 years old. Almost all (98%) were infected through sexual contact (four male-female sex, 37 male-male sex, and 12 had sex with both males and females).
In addition, there were three diagnosed cases less than 10 years old; all were infected through vertical transmission (formerly, mother-to-child transmission).
FOCUS ON MSM
Ninety-five percent (951) of the new cases reported in June were male. The median age was 28 years old (age range: 2-77 years old). More than half of the cases (52%, 522) were 25-34 years old and 29% (296) were 15-24 years old at the time of testing.
Sexual contact remained as the main mode of HIV transmission (98%, 983). Among the newly diagnosed, 59% (589) reported transmission through male to male sex, 26% (260) through sex with both males and females, and 13% (134) were through male to female sex.
Other modes of transmission were sharing of infected needles (1%, 9) and vertical transmission (<1%, 3).
Among the newly diagnosed females for this month, five were pregnant at the time of diagnosis. Two cases each were from NCR and Region 7, and one case was from Region 6.
ACCESS TO MEDS STILL PROBLEMATIC
Perhaps continuing to highlight the ongoing issue with accessing life-saving antiretroviral medicines (ARVs) in the Philippines, only 702 of the new PLHIVs were initiated on antiretroviral treatment/therapy (ART).
To date, even if there are 68,401 confirmed HIV cases reported to the HARP, only 38,903 PLHIVs are presently on ART as of June 2019. The Department of Health continues to have issues in procuring medicines that could save people’s lives; even if it was able to allocate resources to hold a beauty pageant.
DOH’s efforts have long been criticized to be lacking – e.g. aside from finally-admitted procurement issues that cause havoc in ARV distribution and therefore access to them, even the June 2019 report from HARP noted delays in submission of reports (sans reported sanctions) of institutions it accredited to provide services to PLHIVs, particularly naming Imus Social Hygiene Clinic and Davao Doctors Hospital.
Sixty-one Filipinos who worked overseas within the past five years, whether on land or at sea, were diagnosed to be HIV-positive in June. They comprised 6% of the total newly diagnosed cases for the month. Of these, eighty-five percent (52) were male. Ninety-seven percent were infected through sexual contact (18 male-female sex, 29 male-male sex, and 12 sex with both males and females). The ages of male OFWs ranged from 22 to 57 years (median: 32 years); six were aged 35-49 years old; and one case each were from age groups 15-24, 25-34, and 50 and older.
Among the nine female OFWs diagnosed in June, one was 15-24 years old, one was 25-34, six were aged 35-49 years old, and one was 50 years old and older at the time of testing. The age range among diagnosed female OFWs were 24 to 50 years (median: 38 years).
Still in June, 12% (123) of the newly diagnosed engaged in transactional sex.
People who engage in transactional sex are those who reported that they either pay for sex, regularly accept payment for sex, or do both. Reporting of transactional sex was started in December 2012.
Ninety-eight percent (121) of those who engaged in transactional sex were male and aged from 16 to 77 years old (median: 30 years). Sixty percent (73) of the males reported paying for sex only, 31% (37) reported accepting payment for sex only, and 9% (11) engaged in both.
Among the two female cases who engaged in transactional sex, both were reported to have accepted payment for sex.
Meanwhile, five pregnant women were newly diagnosed with HIV. Two cases were from NCR and Region 7 and one case was from Region 6. The age of diagnosis ranged from 26 to 40 (median age: 30).
Reporting of pregnancy status at the time of testing was included in 2011.
DEATHS AMONG PLHIVs
In June, there were 102 reported deaths due to any cause among PLHIVs.
The figure may not show the real picture, however, because of under-reporting.
In any case, of the 102 deaths, 92% (94) were males. Eleven (11%) cases were 15-24 years old at the time of death, 55 (54%) were 25-34 years old, 33 (32%) were 35-49 years old, and three (3%) were 50 years and older.
Ninety-six percent of the cases were reported to have acquired the infection through sexual contact: 18 through male-female sex, 51 through male-male sex, and 29 through males who have sex with both males and females. Three (3%) were infected through sharing of needles. One (1%) had no data on mode transmission.