The United Nations Secretary Generals’ Special Envoy on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific Prasada Rao visited the Philippines at the end of August to advocate for a scaled up response to HIV in the country.
After more than 20 years of low rates of new HIV infections, the Philippines is now seeing an increase in the number of new HIV infections among key populations at high risk in certain geographical sites. For example, the HIV prevalence among people who use drugs in Cebu—one of the most populated areas in the country—went form 0.6% to 53% between 2009-2011. Similarly, the HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men in 2011 was as high as 6% in Quezon City and 5% in Cebu—the HIV prevalence among the general population in the country was less than 0.1%. According to the Philippines Department of Health, there has been a 523% increase in new cases compared to 2008.
Speaking at the Executive Committee Meeting of the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) Mr Rao urged increased leadership and rapid action to stem the spread of the epidemic. He also noted that policies, plans, antiretroviral treatment and HIV prevention technologies are all available and within reach to ensure progress on reversing current trends.
During a meeting with Socio-economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, who also heads the government’s National Economic and Development Authority, Mr Rao emphasized the need for greater government investment on HIV, noting that current prevention investments of US$ 8 million - US$ 10 million per year fall short of the estimated need of at least US$ 40 million per year.
Secretary Balisacan agreed that investing now in HIV prevention will lead to savings in HIV treatment costs in the future and shared that both he and the President of the Philippines, Benigno C. Aquino III, have requested the Health Secretary to present a ‘prevention strategy’ for the Health agenda, including the issue of HIV.
We must raise awareness about the risk of increased epidemic spread if proper response measures are not adopted immediately. There is also a need to agree on high priority areas to allocate resources with a definite focus on key populations at highest risk.Prasada Rao, United Nations Secretary Generals’ Special Envoy for AIDS in Asia and the Pacific
We are seeing a fast and furious increase in HIV infections. We need to prioritize and to scale up the response in a more coordinated manner. What’s important is that our government, whether national or local, should lead in the response and be able to accept the fact that we need to do something and we have to do it fast.Ferchito Avelino, Executive Director of the Philippine National AIDS Council