Monday, May 31, 2010

RP failing in goal to stop AIDS, says UN

By Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: May 30, 2010

THE PHILIPPINES CONTINUES TO fall short of its sixth Millennium Development Goal (MDG), which is to halt and reverse the spread of the dreaded HIV-AIDS disease.

This was disclosed to the Inquirer by Teresita Marie Bagasao, country coordinator of the United Nations Program on HIV-AIDS or UNAIDS.

Interviewed Friday night during the AIDS candlelight memorial observance at Rajah Sulaiman Park in Manila, Bagasao said they were very appreciative of the efforts being undertaken by the multisectoral Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) against the killer disease.

But the PNAC needs “to do more,” Bagasao asserted.

AIDS or the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV. The virus attacks and weakens the body’s immune system, ultimately leading to death. It is usually sexually transmitted although infection can also occur through blood transfusions, needle-sharing and mother-to-child transfer at birth.

Over 25 million people worldwide have died of AIDS since the 1980s, according to UNAIDS.

Bagasao said the country was “falling short” of MDG No. 6. “Based on official reports, new infection rates are going up, not down,” she said.

In a UN report furnished the Inquirer, the body’s representative office in Manila disclosed that “while the country is still within the target of less than one percent of the population for HIV-AIDS, the rising number of HIV cases has become a cause for alarm.”

The report also said HIV cases among the youth had been increasing at “an unprecedented rate” while similar cases “among the 15-24 age group nearly tripled.”

“Aside from the youth, other vulnerable populations (groups) include persons in prostitution and their clients, males who have sex with males, people who inject drugs, and overseas Filipino workers,” the report also said.

Last month, the Department of Health-attached National Epidemiology Center (NEC) warned that the number of HIV-AIDS cases in the country, which had been steadily climbing since 2007, may breach the 6,000-mark for the first time this year.

Based on NEC projections, new HIV infections may reach 1,500 “by Christmas 2010.”
Dr. Eric Tayag, NEC director, told the recent HIV Summit in Manila, “The inconvenient truth is, the future is not bright. It’s going to get worse.”

Like Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, Bagasao stressed the need to “further intensify” the anti-HIV-AIDS drive.

Cabral, who is also PNAC chair, urged the public to keep in mind the “ABCDE” of the anti-HIV-AIDS drive: “Abstain from sex. Be faithful to your partner. Consistently use condoms. Do not use illegal drugs. And educate yourself.”

Cabral is up against a powerful Catholic Church lobby against the use of condoms or any other artificial contraceptive device. The Church is also against the reproductive health bill which would make sex education compulsory in public and private schools.
But Anastacio Marasigan Jr., executive director of The Library Foundation, one of the organizers of this year’s AIDS candlelight memorial (ACM), called for “expanded coverage” of the campaign against HIV-AIDS.

“There’s still a lot of things to be done, especially in the information drive,” said Marasigan as he also expressed hope “people will start realizing that it’s not just a health issue but also a human rights issue.”

Between 1984 and 2010, the DOH recorded a total of 835 AIDS cases. During the period, more than 310 AIDS victims died.

Today, between 33 million and 36 million people are living with HIV-AIDS. About 50 percent of them are women. Last year, about 2.7 million people got infected with HIV.

Dr. Chito Avelino, PNAC executive director, said more than 1,200 anti-AIDS advocates attended the candlelight memorial, which aimed to “remember and honor those who have passed away due to AIDS.”

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