Friday, August 29, 2008
MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines has a lower incidence of HIV than most of its neighbors despite sharing many of the risks, but health officials warned on Thursday that many new cases were now coming to light.
A spate of new HIV cases suggests that the Philippines' situation might be more accurately described as "hidden and growing," said Mario Villaverde, an undersecretary in the Department of Health.
"More recent statistics have already indicted a more or less abrupt change in the number of people afflicted," he said, on the sidelines of a conference on HIV/AIDS in nine Asian countries deemed to have low prevalence of the disease.
Villaverde said more infected people could be making their status known because treatments were now cheaper, although this was being verified by the health department.
"In the past two years, anti-retroviral drugs have become available for free, meaning some HIV positive people previously unknown to the authorities are now being reported," he said.
The number of Filipinos living with HIV was estimated by the United Nations at 7,000 cases in 2007, out of a total population of about 91 million.
The Philippines Department of Health however put the number of HIV patients at about 3,360 as of July, but says over 300 new cases have surfaced this year alone.
Nevertheless, the status of HIV infection in the Philippines has been classified as low prevalence, meaning that less than 0.1 percent of the population and less than 5.0 percent of people in high-risk groups were infected.
This was despite the low usage of condoms in the Catholic-majority country, where the powerful church frowns on artificial methods of contraception.
According to a 2005 study, only 13.5 percent of heterosexual Filipino males in the 15-24 age group used condoms.
India, China and Thailand all have higher incidence of HIV/AIDS than the Philippines.
Other Asian countries deemed to have low prevalence of HIV/AIDS include Bangladesh, Bhutan, Indonesia, North Korea, Fiji, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia and Sri Lanka.
"In the Philippines, the low partner exchange, the frequency or the number of male clients (of prostitutes) frequenting other partners, the contributory factor of circumcision, those are some of the conditions that have somehow kept the HIV prevalence low," said Bai Bagaso, UNAIDS representative for the country.
"But what we're saying is it does mask the threat because it might not reveal the changes in the way HIV is spreading."
(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and David Fox)
Monday, August 25, 2008
[Aug 22, 2008]
A bill seeking to promote the development of microbicides to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections has been introduced in the Philippines, the Philippines News Agency reports. The legislation was filed by Rep. Narciso Santiago and states that the Department of Health and its components should increase research into the initial mechanism of infection by STIs. The bill also mandates that the health department evaluate the safety and efficacy of microbicides in animal models; research the design of contraceptive and non-contraceptive microbicides; examine the development of a mucosal delivery system; and create clinical trials and behavioral research on the use, acceptability and compliance of microbicides.
According to Santiago, the social, health and economic effects of STIs are particularly severe in developing countries such as the Philippines, where women ages 15 to 49 are most affected. Santiago said the STIs that could be prevented by the use of microbicides "impose high human costs in pain, diminished quality of life, disability and death," adding that STIs "substantially enhance susceptibility to HIV infection." According to Santiago, he hopes the legislation will "lessen if not totally stop" the spread and impact of STIs. Hepatitis B, herpes, HIV and human papillomavirus represent two-thirds of new STIs recorded in the country, Santiago said (Philippines News Agency, 8/21).
Friday, August 22, 2008
In the Asia and Pacific Region a country-driven process on scaling up towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support was launched in early 2006. The process aimed to identify solutions to the key obstacles that are blocking universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support services, and to develop nationally agreed, targeted plans or ‘roadmaps’ for building significantly more comprehensive AIDS programmes by 2010. However, during the Regional Consultation on Scaling up Towards Universal Access to HIV Prevention, Treatment, Care and Support in February 2006 in Pattaya, Thailand, participants acknowledged that low prevalence countries have distinct issues that challenge the attainment of their targets towards universal access. These issues include minimal resources allocated, weak government commitment, weak civil society participation, low coverage of programmes, reflecting the low prioritization given to AIDS programmes and the “invisibility” of the problem vis-à-vis other competing priorities.
Thus, the 1st Regional Consultative Meeting on Universal Access to Prevention, Treatment, Care and Support in Low Prevalence Countries was organized in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in 24-27 October 2006. Sixty two (62) representatives from governments, civil society and international organizations from 10 countries participated in the meeting, namely, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Fiji, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Philippines and Sri Lanka. Various UN and multilateral agencies were also present as resource persons and observers. The participants concluded that countries where HIV is still relatively low have a window of opportunity to avoid more serious epidemics cost-effectively. Despite a few notable successes in containing the epidemic, infections continue to rise throughout Asia and the Pacific region and have reached concentrated levels in a number of countries. It is therefore essential that countries with low HIV prevalence invest in sustainable and focused prevention efforts, and actively counter the stigma of HIV and the taboos that hinder addressing risky behaviours.
Calling for action to increase sustainable HIV prevention efforts and funding for AIDS, the delegates adopted the Ulaanbaatar 2006 Call for Action, which, among others:
* underscored the need for focused prevention efforts for people most at risk, including sex workers and their clients, injecting drug users, men who have sex with men and migrants and mobile populations, majority of whom are young;
* called for greater efforts to raise general awareness about AIDS to help break down AIDS-related stigma and discrimination;
* highlighted priorities for an effective response to the epidemic such as improving surveillance systems, so they can better understand factors driving the epidemic and target interventions to those most at risk;
* emphasized that national AIDS action plans need adequate funding, ambitious but realistic targets, high-level political commitment, and the full involvement of civil society; and,
* urged governments and international donors to increase support for national HIV prevention programmes.
Delegates also endorsed the holding of a second meeting to look at the progress made by countries in moving towards universal access to HIV prevention and AIDS treatment, care and support.
Friday, August 1, 2008
Significant gains in preventing new HIV infections are being seen in a number of countries most affected by the AIDS epidemic. This is according to a new report released by UNAIDS.
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