With HIV services at least starting to pick up at the time of COVID-19, the number of Filipinos reported to have HIV by the Department of Health is also starting to show the real – and more dire – picture, with 30 new HIV cases reported every day in February, based on the latest HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP) report.
In total, there were 855 newly-confirmed HIV-positive individuals, with 17% (147) of them with clinical manifestations of advanced HIV infection at the time of testing.
Ninety-four percent (804) of the reported cases were male. The DOH still uses sex at birth in its counting, so that transgender people are still counted according to their assigned sex at birth. Nonetheless, from the aforementioned “male” cases, 2% (19) reported their self-identity as female (transgender women) at the time of testing.
Further, half of the cases (50%, 428) were 25-34 years old at the time of diagnosis, 30% (261) were 15-24 years old, 17% (142) were 35-49 years old, 2% (17) were 50 years and older, and 1% (7) were less than 15 years old. The median age was 28 years old (age range: 1-70 years old).
The regions with the most number of newly reported cases were NCR with 269 (31%) cases, CaLaBaRZon (4A) with 170 (20%) cases, Western Visayas (6) with 115 (13%) cases, Central Luzon (3) with 92 (11%) cases, and Central Visayas (7) with 43 (5%) cases. These top 5 regions comprised 80% of the total number of cases in this period.
Of the (855) total reported cases in February 2021, almost all (97%, 828) were infected through sexual contact. Other modes of transmission (MOT) included: five (1%) vertical transmission (formerly, mother-to-child transmission); and two (<1%) cases through sharing of infected needles. There were 20 (2%) cases that had no data on MOT.
Among the newly reported cases who had acquired HIV through sexual contact, most (86%, 708) were males who have sex with males (MSM) and followed by male-female sex (14%, 120).
Some sectors were more affected by HIV.
To start, in February 2021, 261 (31%) cases were among youth 15-24 years old, and 96% (250) were male. Almost all of the young Filipinos who tested HIV-positive for this period (98%, 256) were infected through sexual contact (24 male-female sex, 160 male-male sex, 72 sex with both males and females).
The sexual activities were also, at times, transactional – i.e. 10% (88) of the newly reported cases engaged in transactional sex. All were male and aged from 16-60 years old (median: 28 years old). Fifty percent (44) of the cases reported paying for sex only, 36% (32) reported accepting payment for sex only and 14% (12) engaged in both.
Children (<10) and adolescents (10-19) were also infected. Six children were diagnosed with HIV in this reporting period, and 83% (5) acquired HIV through vertical transmission. One child had no data on mode of transmission. Meanwhile, there were h 29 newly reported HIV-positive adolescents in February 2021. Of these, 4% (1) were 10-14 years old, 17% (5) were 15-17 years old, and 79% (23) were 18-19 years old. All adolescents were infected through sexual contact (two male-female sex, 20 male-male sex, seven sex with both males and females).
There were 10 HIV-positive women reported pregnant for this period. Central Luzon (3) and Central Visayas (7) reported 3 (30%) cases each. Further, NCR, CaLaBaRZon (4A), Western Visayas (6), and Northern Mindanao (10) reported one case (10%) each. The age of diagnosis ranged from 19 to 36 years old (median age: 25).
Lastly, 63 Filipinos who worked overseas within the past five years, whether on land or at sea, were recently reported with HIV in February 2021. They comprised 7% of the total cases for this period. Of these, 87% (55) were male. Ninety-five percent were infected through sexual contact (eight male-female sex, 31 male-male sex, 13 sex with both males and females). Three (5%) case had no data on MOT. The age of diagnosis ranged from 20 to 58 years old (median age: 33).
DEALING WITH HIV
For this period, 719 people with HIV were initiated on antiretroviral treatment (ART). To date, a total of 49,115 people living with HIV (PLHIV) are presently on ART. Ninety-five percent are on the first line regimen, 4% on second the line, and 1% on the other line of regimen.
Nonetheless, in February 2021, there were 83 reported deaths due to any cause among PLHIV. Ninety-seven percent (80) were males and brought the total reported deaths to 4,719 since January 1984. Further, eight (10%) cases were 15-24 years old at the time of death, 45 (54%) were 25-34 years old, 26 (31%) were 35-49 years old and 4 (5%) were 50 years and older.
The figures may not show the real picture, though, due to under- and/or non-reporting.