PHL sex stance in focus as HIV/AIDS cases rise


AS the Philippines emerged as one of the countries with accelerating rates of new cases of persons with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), staging more efficient information dissemination on HIV is gnarly for health authorities.

Assistant Health Secretary Enrique A. Tayag said that, with the P400-million funding for HIV/AIDS, the Department of Health (DOH) would like to focus on prevention “rather than treatment”.

Tayag said persons living with HIV acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) who are enrolled in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) can receive specific benefits and assistance.

Tayag was referring to the PhilHealth Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment (OHAT) package that covers antiretroviral treatment (ART) and laboratory exams based on specific treatment guideline. These guidelines cover CD4 cell determination, viral load test, drug-toxicity test and professional fees of providers.

The package covers up to P30,000 worth of necessary medical expenses per member-patient per year.

PhilHealth will be paying a maximum of P30,000 ($599.41, at current exchange rates) per year without cap on how many times the patient will go to treatment hubs and how many medicines or tests the patient will avail himself or herself, as long as it falls within the given amount. The OHAT package goes in accordance with the guidelines set by the DOH. According to Tayag, who is also the DOH spokesman, the department is giving P15,000 ($299.71) per person per year for first line drug and P80,000 ($1,598.44) per person per year for second line drugs.


HEALTH Secretary Paulyn Jean B. Rosell-Ubial said the DOH is continuously
offering free and confidential HIV testing in social-hygiene clinicsrun by local government units and in 22 HIV
Treatment Hubs nationwide.

Ubial added that the DO wH is also providing free condoms. Kits are not available to the public as counseling is required before and after testing, she explained.

The DOH chief said treatment options are available to those who test positive for HIV. ARTs are applied to individuals who need to lower the viral load of patients and to improve their immune response.

The DOH is seriously considering a recently-announced World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation on self-testing to improve HIV-testing rates and prevent treatment delays, according to Ubial. The Philippine National AIDS Council of the DOH is committed to end the spread of HIV and improving the lives of all who live with it, she added. She said the Sixth AIDS Medium Term Plan (AMTP), which “is the blueprint of our national response” on HIV and AIDS have determined the targets for 2022.

Ubial said the government is optimistic on reversing HIV trends in the next six years but “only if an ‘All of Society’ and ‘HIV in All of Policies’ approaches are sought with renewed vigor and determination.”

“The ‘All for Health towards Health for All’ line resonates for stopping HIV,” she said adding, that the global call for “Hands Up for HIV” prevention “has just turned a new leaf in the Philippines.”


OUTSIDE of the government are initiatives by private groups and advocates addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

One is the Philippines’s business of Johnson & Johnson Inc. Weeks after losing a lawsuit in the US on its baby-powder product, Johnson & Johnson Philippines launched late last month a campaign the company calls “a comprehensive HIV disease-management program.”

Developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Cos. of Johnson & Johnson, the program tapped non-governmental organization (NGO) Sustained Health Initiatives of the Philippines Inc. (Ship).   Ship has been running a specialist HIV care center with the Philippines General Hospital in Manila. According to documents it provided, the organization “offers high-quality, affordable HIV and primary care directly to the communities that need it most.”

According to Janssen, the program also targets to improve the understanding of the attitudes people hold toward HIV and the factors that affect patient adherence to their medicines, as well as how well treatments work and the availability of ongoing care. Working together, Johnson & Johnson (Philippines) Inc. and Ship “will undertake essential research into current awareness and attitudes toward HIV in the Philippines to generate the necessary evidence to guide education and treatment practices.

“Our goal is to improve the lives of those affected by HIV and significantly reduce the incidence of the disease,” Janssen’s Disease Management Programs leader Dr. Randeep Gill said during the launch of the program called “Connect for Life”. “Health-care solutions and appropriate care planning must be centered around patients’ needs.”

According to Gill, the program will use an evidence-based approach in designing and developing “integrated healthcare solutions focusing on patients’ and health-care worker’s needs and support the implementation of structured interventions to turn the tide on an increasing epidemic.”


THE Philippines is one of seven countries in the world where HIV infection rates are increasing. It had the highest proportional increase of infections among the 15- to 24-year-old age range from 2005 to 2015, documents provided by Janssen said.

The number of people living with HIV is anticipated to increase substantially by 2022. The quality of HIV care in the country is varied, with time from diagnosis to treatment and level of stigma differing greatly between regions.

The diverse geography of the Philippines often limits access to health-care services and improved interconnectivity between health providers could reduce variations in quality of care across the islands, according to documents provided by Janssen.

The company said the program offers treating physicians a clinical information system to further engage with their patients and offers patients the means to stay connected across remote locations.

Johnson & Johnson Philippines Inc. Managing Director Jeffrey Go said “the collaboration forms part of an ongoing effort to leverage the strengths of Johnson & Johnson and bring forth innovative programs to improve health outcomes.”

PHL sex stance in focus as HIV/AIDS cases rise

HIV in Philippines now a ‘youth epidemic’

MANILA, Philippines – The National Youth Commission (NYC) expressed concern yesterday over the rising number of young Filipinos testing positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which it described as a worsening “youth epidemic” in the country.

“The NYC is extremely alarmed by the unprecedented spike in HIV infection among our youth. HIV/AIDS is one of the most urgent concerns facing the Filipino youth today. Our young people are at risk and vulnerable,” chair Aiza Seguerra said.

“The HIV epidemic in our country has a new face and it is the face of a young person,” the NYC chief added.

Citing official statistics, the youth commission
said 62 percent of new HIV cases in the country this year was among young people between 15 and 24 years old.

“Out of the 29 Filipinos who get infected every day in the Philippines, more than half or 19 are 15 to 24 years old. Twenty-five out of the 29 are 15 to 30 years old,” said NYC commissioner Percival Cendaña.

The Department of Health (DOH) projects that more than 55,000 Filipinos will get infected with HIV this year.

According to Antoinette Evangelista, project officer at the DOH’s National AIDS/STI Prevention and Control Program, the agency’s Epidemiology Bureau made the projection based on diagnosed cases reported to the DOH and the trend of the disease in the country.

Fast and furious

“The epidemic is affecting young people at an unprecedented rate,” Cendaña said. “HIV incidence in the country is increasing at a ‘fast and furious’ rate. Even more fast and furious is the rate of infection among our youth.”

Evangelista said the “fast and furious rate” of HIV infections in the country began in 2008.

Seguerra called for immediate and comprehensive interventions to address the epidemic, calling on different stakeholders to help in empowering the youth with the right information to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Unprotected sex is the main driver of the epidemic. We have to enable the youth to make responsible decisions, (ranging) from abstaining from sex to using a condom,” Seguerra said.

Testing for minors

The NYC expressed support for a proposed legislation that would strengthen measures against HIV/AIDS in the country, including allowing minors to have themselves tested without parental consent.

“HIV is not a death sentence. Sexually active young people should get tested. The earlier they know their HIV status, the earlier they can seek care and treatment to improve quality of life,” Cendaña said.

But while they agree to allowing 15 to 17 year olds to avail themselves of HIV testing without parental support, the NYC still believes that those who test positive – especially the youth – should have the support that they can get from their family and friends.

“(But) if parental consent is a deterrent (for minors who wish to get tested), we must remove that,” he said.

He also underscored the need to remove the stigma against the disease, saying it was one of the reasons why the virus continued to spread as people were discouraged from getting tested due to fear of being discriminated against.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros filed Senate Bill 376, or the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Bill, to strengthen the country’s response to the spreading epidemic.

‘Connect for Life’

“We have to look for all of those infected… We encourage people to undergo testing,” Evangelista said during the launch of the “Connect for Life” program of the Philippine General Hospital, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson and Johnson and Sustained Health Initiatives of the Philippines (SHIP), a non-governmental organization.

Evangelista added those infected but are unaware of it might “unintentionally spread the infection through sexual contact and, in some cases, sharing of needles” among drug users.

Based on a surveillance report of the DOH, there were 3,112 new HIV/AIDS cases documented in July to October, bringing the total this year to 7,756.

The figure also raised to 38,114 the total number of cases since 1984.

Of the 3,112 cases, 333 are already full-blown AIDS when reported to the DOH. Eleven of the cases are less than 11 years old while 885 belong to the 15 to 24 age bracket and 1,637 are 25 to 34.

“The trend is increasing. In 2008, there was only one case per day. In 2010 there were four cases, nine cases in 2012 and 17 in 2014. This year, we have 26 HIV cases daily,” she said.

Evangelista added that since the country documented its first HIV case in 1984, cases were “quite stable – there was low and slow progression of the HIV epidemic” until 2008.

By Janvic Mateo and Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 30, 2016 – 12:00am


26 new HIV cases daily

This is where we stand as we mark World AIDS Day today: The Philippines is now one of seven countries burdened with an alarming increase in the rate of HIV/AIDS infection.

From a “low and slow” prevalence rate in the early 2000s, the rate of infection is now “fast and furious,” with 26 new HIV cases reported daily. Given the stigma attached to this pandemic, it is safe to assume that the number of unreported cases could be much more.

In fact, according to the Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS and ART (anti-retroviral therapy) Registry of the Philippines (HARP), from January 1984 (when the first HIV case in the country was reported) to June 2016, a total of 34,999 cases were reported, most of them asymptomatic.


The biggest number of reported cases are from the National Capital Region, with Calabarzon a close second. Sexual contact remains the most common mode of transmission, followed by injecting drug use.  Of infections transmitted through sexual contact, 89 percent are among males who have sex with males (MSM).

Particularly worrisome is that the cases have been getting younger through the years. Between 2001 and 2005, the age group with the biggest proportion of cases was 35-49 years; from 2006, it has become 25-34.  The proportion of HIV cases in the 15-24 age group increased from 25 percent in 2006-2010, to 28 percent in 2011-2016. In this last group, 94 percent were male, with 96 percent of them infected through sexual contact.  That most of the cases involved MSM isn’t surprising; at that age, most males are adventurous and reckless.

It’s a risk and reality that could have been addressed with sex education in schools where young people make for a captive audience, had the Supreme Court not blocked the full implementation of the Reproductive Health Law.  Among the issues that could have been addressed by age-appropriate sex education as provided for by the RH Law is safe sex, as well as the ABCD of HIV/AIDS prevention: abstinence, being faithful, condom use, drug use prevention, and so on.  These are basic information that the young, who feel invincible, are not likely to seek out on their own.

The Catholic Church shares the responsibility for abetting the HIV/AIDS crisis, with its continued condemnation of condom use—because, as its bishops have said repeatedly, the prophylactic might be used by couples as a contraceptive device.

It has now been left largely to private groups and NGOs to keep the virus at bay with continuing education, information campaigns and peer counseling, while the DOH and its satellite treatment centers offer free anti-retroviral drugs and free HIV/AIDS testing that—it can’t be stressed enough—is crucial to detect the infection early and tame it with proper treatment.

Fortunately, at an earlier press briefing, the private sector launched an initiative that could help HIV patients comply with their treatment regimen, failure of which could lead to the virus becoming drug-resistant. Called “Connect for Life,” the texted reminder system launched by the SHIP Clinic, Johnson & Johnson and other partners, addresses major challenges in managing HIV/AIDS, including the Philippines’ diverse geography that limits patients’ access to healthcare services. There are also the lingering stigma and sense of shame that make AIDS patients withdraw instead of reaching out to their doctors more often.

Patients can register with SHIP or call J&J, and choose how they want to be reminded or contacted for timely health and fitness tips, consultation, medical advice, and other services they may need in managing the virus. Doctors for their part get a more accurate and updated clinical information system to further engage with their patients. Offered free to HIV patients, the service maintains privacy and confidentiality between patient and health provider through a PIN number that allows only the patient to see the messages. Best of all, the medium used—the mobile phone—is most appropriate, being the ubiquitous device of this age.

It’s community efforts like these that make the HIV+ feel more positive about the future.

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 12:28 AM December 01, 2016

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