Monday, March 15, 2010

AIDS in RP a full-blown epidemic — DoST scientist

Manila Bulletin


Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) cases in the country have increased dramatically and the disease is now in the midst of a full-blown epidemic, a Department of Science and Technology (DoST) balik-scientist said Friday.

DoST scientist Dr. Edsel Salvaña, also a doctor at the SAGIP HIV/AIDS Clinic, said more and more patients are showing up at the AIDS facility located at the Philippine General Hospital. She noted that in May last year alone, 80 patients were diagnosed with AIDS.

According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the Philippines used to be a low prevalence area, with only 4,218 confirmed cases in 1984. However, the cases ballooned to 12,000 in 2005.

The HIV/AIDS Registry in the Philippines, on the other hand, revealed that in 2000, the rate was one new case every three days. In 2007, it increased to one new case a day and finally, the rate became two new cases a day in 2009.

“We have a very big problem. If the rate of doubling continues, there will be over 20,000 new cases per year by 2020. The cost to treat each person is US$200-300 a month, not counting loss of productivity and life expectancy,” Salvaña said.

HIV/AIDS can be contracted through sexual contact, blood transfusion, drug use injection, needle prick injury, and genetics (mother-to-child).

Those who are most at risk are homosexuals, followed by bisexuals, and heterosexuals, respectively.

What makes this epidemic more alarming is that very few health workers trained formally in treating AIDS/HIV. Because the social stigma is tremendous, some doctors are even reluctant to treat patients. Salvaña said that some people do not even want to be in the same room with a patient.

“This prompted the physicians involved to initiate emergency measures and improve the clinic facilities and ramp up prevention strategies,” said Salvaña.

Education is the key to prevent this epidemic and to hasten its spread. Media also has a big role in promoting awareness among the people.

“Abstinence is most effective, but condom use is the next most effective method,” related Salvaña.

The Red Party, founded by Salvaña, has been in the forefront of these efforts, and was featured in an international publication as a dynamic force in advocating stronger programs and support for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention.

“The DoST, through the Balik Scientist Program, is essential in the transfer of knowledge and in setting collaborations with international partners. Research collaboration will help catalyze solutions to the problem early in the epidemic. Investment with money and know-how is important in controlling and defeating the disease. We need all the help we can get,” said Salvaña.

The Red Party is planning to conduct an HIV/AIDS summit this year, which involves local stakeholders and international partners who will craft solutions to the current epidemic. Centers for research in HIV/AIDS will also be set up

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