February Sets New Record with 849 HIV Cases

Highest so far

According to the HIV/AIDS Registry of the Philippines, February saw a remarkable rise in HIV cases with 849 individuals reported to be positive. This data, which was also made available on the Department of Health website, marks the highest monthly count in reported cases since 1984. This would mean that an average of 28 cases were being reported everyday for the whole month. February’s statistics upped last month’s 844 cases which was considered the highest at the time. This upwards trend in the number of HIV cases does not bode well for our country’s current health conditions. HIV or the human immunodeficiency virus is known to cause the fatal acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) which has already claimed 128 lives within the year’s first two months.

By the numbers

Of these 849 reported cases, 94 have already developed into life-threatening AIDS.  Men dominated the statistics, comprising more than 94% of the cases. Half of the affected men belonged to the 25 – 34 age group. 46 women, including 2 pregnant women, were diagnosed as well.

NCR took the lead with 310 reported cases. Calabarzon trailed behind with 129 cases. Central Luzon, Central Visayas and the Davao Region brought with them 102, 79, and 52 cases, respectively.

828 out of the 849 known cases were transmitted via sexual contact. 19 cases were caused by infected needles while 2 were discovered to have been passed on from mother to child.

HIV and the Philippines

The virus has long gripped our country. Since its first recorded case back in 1984, the disease has maintained a steady rise in numbers, taking more than 2,000 lives along the way. There seemed to be little progress by way of managing the disease at a nationwide scale. In our conservative country, the social stigma attached to the virus may be one to blame.

The Filipino Catholic Church, a once primary condemner of sexual diseases, has acknowledged the lack of resolve of their previous stance. It had been making notable strides in bridging the gap between widespread HIV awareness and the Filipino people over the years. Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma called on his fellow priests and Catholics to extend their aid to those infected with the disease. For the 2015 World AIDS Day celebration, he stated that “we have to reach out to HIV victims because they, too, are our brothers and sisters. This is an imperfect world, but life is still beautiful and meaningful.” Reports of priests refusing to provide funeral Masses for AIDS victims have also surfaced. These were met with much disapproval by the Catholic Church. “We can educate our priests about it. We have to tell them that we should be a merciful Church that reflects the love of God,” said Archbishop Palma.

Recent statistics show that the age groups being reported as affected by the virus seem to be getting younger as well. Out of 28 Filipinos with HIV, 24 belong to the youth sector, claimed the National Youth Commission chair Aiza Seguerra. She clarified that these statistics does not necessarily mean that younger people are getting infected due to early engagements. It simply means that more and more young people are getting themselves tested. This seems to signify that open dialogues promoted by the DOH and NYC  for parents and schools are effective in raising awareness and spreading information on HIV. The NYC is also hoping to revise the RA 8504 which states that written informed consent is required prior to HIV testing for persons aged 18 and below. The organization hopes to lower the age of consent to 15, citing the difficulty of gaining parental consent on still taboo topics such as HIV testing.

While a cure for HIV is yet to be developed, means of disease management are already accessible, especially for those detected at an early stage. DOH ensured this by making antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), the HIV maintenance medication, free for the public. ARVs and test kits could be accessed in all City Health Offices.