Friday, April 9, 2010

DOH calls conference to halt advance of HIV/AIDS in RP

By Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 18:42:00 04/07/2010

Filed Under: Diseases, Health

MANILA, Philippines—Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral is calling for a "national coordinated response" to prevent the further spread of HIV-AIDS in the country and is organizing a national conference for this purpose next Monday.

"Everyone should be involved in addressing the HIV-AIDS epidemic," said a DOH report furnished the Inquirer.

The department asserted that "intensifying the campaign at various levels of collaboration can help significantly in reinforcing education of the people about HIV prevention and control measures."

"HIV has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization and has been a biomedical as well as a social issue. This alarm must be transformed into behavior change and accountability for one's actions—taking charge of our own overall health," the DOH report said.

Next Monday, the multisectoral Philippine National AIDS Council, which Cabral chairs, is scheduled to hold a conference to "inform leaders of society about the HIV-AIDS situation in the country."

The one-day meeting also aims to convince these leaders to "scale up the national response to HIV-AIDS."

In a statement on Wednesday, Cabral said that "with increasing cases of HIV reported in the past three years in the Philippines, it has now become imperative for the government to conduct an HIV-AIDS summit."

The HIV-AIDS conference, which will be held at the Manila Diamond hotel, "will serve as a venue to strengthen collaboration among key players in the national response (to the epidemic) and engage others in the realization of a harmonized, collaborative and scaled-up initiative to address the challenges of HIV-AIDS."

In another report, the DOH disclosed that it recorded a total of 835 AIDS cases between 1984 and 2010. During the period, a total of 314 AIDS victims (38 percent) died.

Of the 273 HIV cases registered by the DOH during the past two months, at least three were positive for AIDS.

"For February alone, a total of 130 HIV cases were registered, an increase of 117 percent compared to the same period last year," said the DOH.

"The number of cases have increased significantly," it added. "From one new case reported every three days in 2000, it increased to one per day in 2007 and doubled to two new cases per day in 2009."

This year, about five new cases are being reported to the DOH’s AIDS registry each day, and, according to the DOH, "The number only represents the tip of the iceberg."

During the past 26 years, the DOH recorded a total of 4,697 HIV cases.

A total of 3,477, or 74 percent of the cases, were males, 23 percent of whom were in the 25-29 age group.

Another 20 percent of the victims were in the 30-34 age group, followed by 16 percent in the 35-39 age group.

Ninety percent of the HIV cases (4,203) got the infection through sexual contact: heterosexual (54 percent), homosexual (30 percent) and bisexual (16 percent).

The other modes of HIV transmission were needle-sharing among injecting drug users, blood transfusions, needle-prick injuries and mother-to-child infection.

In January and February, at least 16 overseas Filipino workers were reported HIV positive, said the DOH. Twelve of them were males while four were females. Their ages ranged between 18 and 69.

All 16 HIV cases got the infection through sexual contact.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Dealing with HIV and AIDS

Manila Standard, Philippines

By Adelle Chua

Filipinos have been familiar with HIV and AIDS since the 1980s. Remember movies made about Sarah Jane Salazar and Dolzura Cortez? Even so, the knowledge of the existence of this condition did not alarm most people at the time. The Philippines was thought to be a low-prevalence country, compared to other countries especially in Africa. Many attributed this to the fact that most Filipinos are Catholic—devout, faithful, never promiscuous.

Imagine thus the public’s reaction when no less than the Department of Health announced an almost-fantastic increase in the number of reported cases in recent months. In December 2009 alone, there were 126 reported cases, bringing the full-year 2009 total to 835, from the 2007 total of 343 and 2008 total of 628. Hardly a consolation were the January 2010 figures, which reflected 143 new cases.

To be more dramatic about it, there was an average of one case per two days reported in 2000. In 2007, this became one case per day. In late 2008 to 2009, there were two cases a day. Using the January 2010 numbers, there are four to five cases reported per day.

Ferchito Avelino, executive director of the Philippine National AIDS Council secretariat, says there is a host of reasons for the alarming surge in numbers. First, because of the support of The Global Fund, there has been a more widespread information and intervention program that has also improved access to HIV testing procedures.

Then, too, the Integrated HIV Behavioral Serologic Surveilance, performed in 23 sites all over the country, confirms increased risky behavior among some Filipinos.

The survey, done every two years, includes obtaining blood samples from certain segments of the population deemed “at risk”—people in prostitution, men having sex with men, and people who inject drugs. Extensive interviews are also conducted to get to know respondents’ behavior and lifestyle. The latest survey, done last year, yielded that newer cases being reported are those of people under 30, mostly young urban professionals. Reasons for acquiring the virus were poor knowledge of HIV and AIDS, having multiple sex partners and the low level of condom use.

The 2009 survey also reflected a great increase in transmission among people who inject drugs, leading authorities to link HIV infection and Hepatitis C, a blood-borne disease.

The council (, a creation of Republic Act 8504 and composed of more than 20 government and non-government bodies, is the central coordinating agency for the national response to the threat of HIV and AIDS. But what IS the national response? Avelino says they are focused on the prevention, treatment, care and support of Persons Living with HIV.

By prevention, the council works on information and education campaigns to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS. Risk reduction is key, Avelino says. Abstinence and mutual monogamy are always fool-proof ways. But the truth is that neither the government nor the Church can impose on people what lifestyles to lead. “Different people do behave in so many different ways,” Avelino adds. “The way to help is to ensure they have options.”

This brings us back to the controversial condom, evil incarnate for the Catholic Church. Remember how much flak Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral got from the church hierarchy for distributing condoms at a bus station on Valentines Day? The bishops even reportedly advised Cabral to reflect on her advocacy during the Holy Week just past. The Catholic Church says condoms do not help prevent the spread of HIV and even increase risks as they offer a false sense of security.

Avelino adds that the Church’s position—that condoms offer only 85 percent protection, and this protection decreases with repeated use—just does not make sense. The 15 percent risk, he says, comes from incorrect and inconsistent use. “This is why mere distribution is not enough. We also have to teach people how to use it correctly.”

The council is also involved in conducting awareness campaigns in the workplace, both in the private and public sectors. Numerous corporations have recognized the need to educate their manpower on the consequences of risky behavior. Fortunately, the Civil Service Commission’s chairman, former Health Secretary Francisco Duque, needs no further convincing on the merits of the campaign.

As for treatment, there are now Anti-Retro Viral drugs, prescribed to a patient whose CD4 count (CD4 is a kind of white blood cell that leads the attack on infections) falls below an ideal level. But once a patient starts the ARV treatment—a mix of three drugs, when before there were 10—he has to take them every day, at the same hour, unfailingly, for the rest of his life.

The treatment is costly. The medicines will cost a patient anywhere between P1,500 and P2,000 a day. Remember that the drugs have to be taken every day. The government does provide ARV treatment for free in selected treatment hubs—but this is made possible by the help of The Global Fund. It’s aid, and it will not last forever. The Global Fund rounds last for five yeas and the one currently in force will end in 2012. The Philippines will then have to apply for the next one.

Avelino points to the “burning house” syndrome as what is responsible for the escalation of the number of reported cases. “The problem in this country is that an issue has to be a sensation first in the media before we realize how important it truly is.” In the past, HIV and AIDS were not deemed serious threats to the country. For the most part, there was no decisive, sustained and aggressive effort to prevent its spread. The threat was conveniently swept under the rug.

Now that the situation has been likened to an epidemic, everybody is hysterical—laying blame on others, branding certain industries as “breeding grounds” for HIV, taking the moral high ground, debating over what to do and how exactly to do it, advancing and then receding in the fight because of the fear of offending certain sensibilities. In the meantime, many more people remain uninformed of their options, and more are consigned to a battle with the dreaded virus. The persistent social stigma, from a deadly mix of ignorance and bigotry, makes things worse.

“We cannot afford to be lukewarm anymore in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Tama na ang pagpapa-cute. It’s time for serious action,” Avelino says. He is worried, and with reason. We all are. His current boss, Cabral, has shown admirable gumption in doing what she has to do even as she only assumed the health portfolio in January. She has not yet even made her zeal contagious in the Executive branch. For how long will she stay in her post given that this administration is almost done?

And will the next national leader recognize the threat or keep on waffling to court favor from the almighty church?

Copyright Manila Standard Today 2005-2009

Monday, April 5, 2010

DOH, CBCP agree on ways to prevent spread of HIV/AIDS

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Health (DOH) and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) may have opposing views on the use of condoms, but they agree on other ways to prevent the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) in the country.

Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral and CBCP-National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (NASSA) HIV programs coordinator Josephine Ignacio, who were panelists in yesterday’s third forum before the April 12 National HIV Summit 2010, approved of other ways to combat HIV/AIDS.

Cabral and Ignacio stressed that there are other factors that they can discuss to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

“From here, we realize that there are common points we can work on without compromising the teachings of the Catholic Church. To tackle the HIV pandemic we need a multi-sectoral approach – government, church and civil society; and we call on the media to keep in mind (their) significant role in uniting these efforts rather than engaging in the topics that divide,” Ignacio said.

She added the HIV/AIDS situation in the country requires them to “look forward rather than backward.”

“The call for a summit is for us to sit down and talk, collaborate between the CBCP-NASSA and the government,” she said.

Ignacio mentioned that instead of dwelling on the condom issue, they should work together and promote awareness of the deadly disease that until now has no cure. “Condom is a small iota of the problem. Poverty is the issue.”

Asked if this means the DOH would stop handing out condoms, Cabral answered no.
She said her department would continue distributing condoms to hygiene clinics, those who engage in men-to-men sexual intercourse, and spouses of indigent HIV victims.

But Ignacio reminded the government not to encourage promiscuous behavior and teach the public to be responsible with their actions and be faithful to their partners.
She said Filipinos should abide by the Church’s teachings to lead orderly lives and called on gay people not to be promiscuous.

Cabral said the “emphasis is what we can cooperate on and not on the things that divide us.”

Gov’t should prepare

Meanwhile, international group Global Funds said it would only pay for the cost of medicine of people living with HIV/AIDS until 2012 and the government should now make preparations to cover the cost of the medicine after that.

Cabral said faith-based groups have an important role to play because they are in charge of molding the behavior of society and individuals.

“They should look for strength from the moral fiber of individuals and societies,” she added.

“Once they have succeeded in reducing the number of those infected with the serious communicable diseases, this would mean less cost for the country because they would no longer have to buy medicine,” she said.

Ignacio said “to label the Church as hostile to the efforts in combating the virus is doing a great disservice to hundreds of thousands of nuns, priests, brothers and other members of the Church who are the silent workforce behind this exceptional response to the pandemic. With the work we have at hand, we do not have the luxury of time to indulge in polemical discussions on condoms.”

By working together the DOH and the Church hope to mitigate the economic impact of the epidemic on the Filipino family, she said.

Cabral said the 5.4 percent of the Global Fund is being accessed by faith-based organizations, including the Catholic Church, and with their meager funds they need to tie up with the government.

Others panelists at the forum were Philippine National Aids Council’s Dr. Susan Gregorio, Social Welfare Undersecretary Cecilia Yangco, Church of God International (Ang Dating Daan’s) representative Jun Soriano and Pinoy Plus president Jericho Paterno
. – Evelyn Macairan

From The Philippine Star