Friday, January 28, 2011

Filipino bishops to be proactive against HIV

Steve Kraus, director of UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific, gives bishops an update of the HIV/AIDS situation in the Philippines

By Sean Salvador, Manila

Filipino Catholic bishops wore red ribbon lapel pins on Thursday as they vowed to play a proactive role in the fight against HIV/AIDS and prevent discrimination against those living with the disease.

The bishops made their pledge in a meeting with Steve Kraus, director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific.

They said their coordination with Kraus does not mean that the Church also encourages the use of condoms in combating the spread of HIV/AIDS.

“The Church has done remarkable things in all parts of the world and these include the years of prevention, treatment, support and care for the people living with HIV,” Kraus said.

“Here in the Philippines, it’s crucial and logical that you work closely with the Church… this is a good sign that we will intensify our collaboration and work even close together,” he said.

Kraus said the four-hour meeting “was significant” and there was no debate on controversial issue such as condom use. “It is more about acceptance of people infected or living with HIV,” Kraus said.

By promoting community solidarity, the UNAIDS official said, the Church can prevent new HIV infections and ensure that those infected are treated with dignity and respect.

“We have to welcome people living with HIV into our homes and into our parishes so that we can better understand their world and for them to understand our world,” Kraus said.

Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo said that while the Church considers condom use can be morally justified in “certain cases,” it is not the main solution to a “behavioral problem.”

“Our support is selective, which means to say we’ll help in raising awareness to the people, and address stigma and discrimination,” said Archbishop Lagdameo, former president of the Catholic bishops’ conference.

Members of the CBCP are in Manila this week for their plenary assembly that will start on Saturday.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

7 out of 100 HIV-positive Pinoys are OFWs - DOH

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED/CORRECTED) – The Department of Health (DOH) has released new data on HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) in the Philippines.

Based on the data released by the DOH and the Philippine HIV and AIDS Registry, 7 out of 100 HIV positive are overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

This is lower than the data in 2006.

However, the number of OFWs affected may not be accurate since not all HIV/AIDS positive have been documented.

"Paano pa yung mga hindi documented o mga TNT na infected ng HIV-AIDS," said Dr. Chito Avelino, director of the Philippine National AIDS Council Secretariat.

Still, according to the data, of the 160 OFW HIV/AIDS positive, 83% were men and 18% were women.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) challenged the Philippine government to intensify its campaign against the spread of HIV-AIDS to protect its Filipino workers.

The group said that AIDS preventive education must be included in the seminars that OFWs undergo before leaving the country for work abroad.

“Nakakalungkot ang bilang na ito na tinatamaan ang mga Pinoy ng HIV/AIDS,” said Rafael Mapalo, TUCP National spokesperson.

For its part, the DOH said the campaign to educate OFWs on the use of condoms for protection needs to be strengthened to prevent the disease from further spreading.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

AIDS advisory body to lobby for stronger law

Business World, Philippines

THE DEPARTMENT of Health (DoH)-Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) is lobbying for a new HIV/AIDS prevention bill that will advocate higher budget for PNAC and anti-HIV programs of its 17 member agencies.

PNAC will be providing inputs for the measure, which will be sponsored upon resumption of Congress, said Dr. Ferchito L. Avelino, PNAC secretariat executive director.

"It will be faster to pass a new bill than to make amendments to the old law," he told BusinessWorld in a phone interview yesterday.

He added the bill will be "an opportunity to enrich the programs against HIV/AIDS (human immunovirus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome), given the new trend in the epidemic."

According to the Philippine HIV/AIDS Registry, HIV infections are on the rise, with five new HIV cases per day.

In the first 10 months of 2010, there were 1,305 new HIV infections compared with 835 for the whole of 2009. If the trend continues, there will be an estimated 46,000 cases by 2015.

This is contrary to the country’s pledge in 2000, as part of its UN Millennium Goals, to halt and reverse the rate of infections by 2015. Moreover, apart from Bangladesh, the Philippines is the only other Asian nation reporting a rise in incidence rate.

Mr. Avelino said the new bill, which will supplant the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998 (Republic Act 8504), will directly address HIV/AIDS with more "aggressive" provisions.

The original law emphasized public awareness campaigns, assuring basic health and social services for individuals with HIV, promoting universal precautions in practices and procedures that carry the risk of HIV transmission, eradicating conditions that aggravate the spread of the infection, and ensuring that the human rights and civil liberties of HIV/AIDS patients are not compromised.

Prominent features of the new bill, meanwhile, include specified funding of up to P20 million for the operations of PNAC and its member agencies.

"We have a budget, but not necessarily for the member agencies. In the new bill, it will specifically state that each member agency will get a portion of the budget.

"And although we’re entitled to P20 million, in the last five years we’ve only had a running budget of P9 million. We’re still lobbying for the P20 million," said Mr. Avelino.

He was referring to the original PNAC budget of P20 million -- funded through the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) purportedly for additional antiretroviral drugs (ARV) in 2005 -- which was reduced the following year to P9 million.

While admitting they will have to prove absorptive capacity of such a large sum, he maintained that the current budget is simply insufficient.

Apart from which, the new bill not only advocates HIV/AIDS education, particularly on preventive measures, it also seeks to provide a budget for condoms and other prophylactic devices and make these freely available to at-risk populations.

"It’s more aggressive. This is a controversial issue, but the Pope’s recent statement on condom-use [in terms of HIV/AIDS prevention and for ‘discordant couples’] has given a big boost to the campaign," he said.

It should be noted, however, that the Senate retained only P8 million for the procurement of condoms from the initial P880 million allocated for various contraceptives in the DoH budget.

Yet Mr. Avelino is optimistic that with help of legislators, the new bill will be filed upon the resumption of session, and favorably assessed.

He said Akbayan party-list Rep. Arlene "Kaka" J. Bag-ao will be sponsoring the bill in the House, and the PNAC will be approaching Senator Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. in the hopes that he will sponsor a counterpart measure.

Sought for comment, Ms. Bag-ao’s camp said they "offer support for the HIV/AIDS prevention advocacy" but would neither confirm nor deny her sponsorship of any new bill.

Ms. Bag-ao is the principal author of the Reproductive Health Bill, of which one out of 10 components pertains to HIV/AIDS prevention.

"We continue to lobby for the RH Bill, but much of it has become too politicized and we feel that this new bill will have an easier passage," said Mr. Avelino.

PNAC was created in 1992 by Executive Order 39 as an advisory body to the office of the President on all matters related to the disease.

It was reconstituted under Republic Act 8504 as the central advisory, planning and policy making body on the prevention and control of HIV and AIDS in the country.

It acts as a national coordinating body composed of 26 members from the government, civil society and organizations of people living with HIV. -- Johanna Paola D. Poblete

Friday, January 7, 2011

Mandaluyong asks call centers to hold AIDS seminars for workers

January 3, 2011, 5:57pm

MANILA, Philippines — Mandaluyong City Mayor Benjamin Abalos on Monday said he has asked call center companies to have their employees undergo lectures on HIV and AIDS.

Abalos said the move is part of their intensified campaign against the spread of HIV and AIDS within the city. The City Government has included the lecture on HIV and AIDS as a requirement for the issuance of worker's permit.

“I have called all the personnel managers of call centers and told them about this. In fact, what I am worried about are those at the college level. Statistics show that most HIV victims are the youth aged 18 to 28 years old,” he said.

Dr. Camarines Pecos, City Health Officer head, said that in 2010, 206 people in Mandaluyong City were tested for HIV and two individuals were positive.

"In 2007 up to 2009, 289 people were tested and five came out positive. One of those five died of AIDS in 2009. The campaign is effective for encouraging people to voluntarily undergo tests,” Camarines said.

He added that according to the latest data from the Philippine HIV and AIDS Registry, HIV infection within the country has risen up to three cases per day compared to two cases daily in 2009.

Abalos has instructed all barangay captains and newly elected members of the Sangguniang Kabataan to focus the HIV-AIDS campaign on the youth within respective areas.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Philippines’ HIV/AIDS problem worries UN

By Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer First Posted 13:49:00 01/02/2011 Filed Under: Health, Diseases, Philippines - Regions

MANILA, Philippines—On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most alarming, the HIV-AIDS problem in the Philippines is now "five nationally."

But it is "already eight to nine in specific sites (nationwide) mainly associated with officially-reported HIV prevalence," according to Teresita Marie Bagasao, country coordinator of the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

At the national level, "only those who are aware of the situation have expressed grave concern over the sharp increase in reported new HIV infections."

"But most are not alarmed, possibly due to lack of visible information, as well as being lulled into a false sense of security by the average national HIV prevalence of under 0.1 percent," Bagasao told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

However, "some places (nationwide) that have reported more than four percent to as much as 53 percent HIV prevalence among its most-at-risk groups are alarmed and are actively pursuing solutions to address their situation, described as concentrated epidemics," she said.

With only five years into the deadline to achieve its Millennium Development Goals (MDG), the country continues to fall short of its sixth MDG, which is to halt and reserve the spread of the dreaded HIV-AIDS disease, Bagasao emphasized.

Citing official reports, Bagasao disclosed that here, new infection rates were going up, not down.

"In the 2010 Global AIDS report released by UNAIDS in late November, the Philippines was one of seven nations in the world which reported over 25 percent in new HIV infections between 2001 and 2009, whereas other countries have either stabilized or shown significant declines in the rate of new infections," she noted.

Among all countries in Asia, only the Philippines and Bangladesh were now reporting increases in HIV cases, with others either stable or decreasing, said Bagasao.

Late last year, UNAIDS also reported that the number of new cases of HIV-AIDS around the world had dropped by about one-fifth over the past decade.

For its part, the Department of Health had reported there were 1,305 confirmed new HIV infections during the first 10 months of 2010, compared with 835 for the whole of 2009.

Sex between men accounted for nearly 80 percent of all the 2010 cases, and more than half of those infected were aged between 20 and 29.

The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, leads to AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, a condition in which the body's immune system is attacked, weakened, and disabled by the virus, ultimately leading to death.

Aside from the increasing number of HIV cases, there are other factors contributing to the problem, said Bagasao: "Continued risk behaviors and pervasive misconceptions among most-at-risk (sectors) despite seemingly high knowledge point to inadequacy of current behavior change interventions in converting knowledge to behavior; and the stigma attached to AIDS, which is possibly linked association with socially-unacceptable behaviors, as well as discrimination actually experienced by people living with HIV."

The UNAIDS official pointed out that "although the national AIDS response is backed by Republic Act 8504, or the National AIDS Law, the country, through the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC), has yet to define its prevention strategy and set standards of quality."

"Programs remain (either) unfunded or under-funded and have not been able to keep up with the change and pace in HIV transmission...More than half of program funding come from external sources. The program needs a clear investment plan to address not only resource gaps but also sustainability of existing efforts," said Bagasao.

Overall, it is "still largely a health-focused response...Other sectors need to step up their response."
Bagasao cited a UN General Assembly progress report on the Philippines, released in April 2010, which "indicated that programs have not reached set universal access targets of getting to at least 60 percent of at-risk groups with prevention programs."

There was also a "general lack of awareness, possibly linked to inadequate communication programs to sensitize stakeholders on this issue."

Based on the assessment of UNAIDS, PNAC has also made some notable accomplishments, like the "passage of RA 8504, the well-articulated AIDS Medium-Term Plan 4, commitment to work with civil society, including people living with HIV-AIDS, and the holding of the recent AIDS summit," among others.

Last month, PNAC launched its AIDS Medium-Term Plan (AMTP5) for 2011 to 2016, which UNAIDS said would "hopefully bring back on track the country's response to MDG 6."

"AMTP5 has to be operationalized and implemented," said Bagasao.

For its part, UNAIDS "will continue to harness a coordinated UN support to government and non-government sectors, both at national and local levels, to strengthen response," she said.

"MDG 6 should be seen as part of the whole MDGs that countries have to work towards and show significant progress by 2015. As other countries have shown, five years can spell a difference if the adequate investments in the right programs are put in place now. In a sense, 2011 ushers in the countdown to 2015," Bagasao added.

In June, the UN Millennium Campaign announced that the Philippines did not make the list of 20 countries that made the most in achieving the MDGs because the government was off-track in 40 percent of the 21 indicators in attaining the MDGs.

According to the campaign's report card, the 20 nations that have made the most overall progress on achieving the MDGs were: Benin, Mali, Ethiopia, Gambia, Malawi, Vietnam, Uganda, Nepal, India, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Honduras, Mauritania, Ghana, China, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Togo.

Eleven of the 20 countries are among Africa's poorest states.

The Philippines' performance in meeting its eight MDGs has remained "generally low," according to Renaud Meyer, UN Development Program country director.

Meyer told a recent public forum that "accelerating progress to attain the MDGs requires increased resources to deliver what has been promised to those for whom the MDGs are not a reality."

The MDGs are international development goals that all 192 UN member-states and at least 23 international organizations have agreed to achieve by 2015.

Aside from fighting HIV-AIDS, malaria and other killer diseases, the other MDGs are eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a global partnership for development.