No new HIV strain in PH: DOH

By Leilani Junio

March 21, 2018, 4:19 pm

MANILA -- There is no new strain of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) in the country, the Department of Health (DOH) said on Wednesday.

The DOH made the statement after some online news sites reported that there is a new and more aggressive HIV strain in the Philippines. 

"That is fake news," DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III said in an ambush interview with the media at The Heritage Hotel in Manila after the turn-over ceremony of technical assistance packages project for tuberculosis control by the US Agency for International Development to the health department.

Duque appealed to members of the media to refrain from reporting similar fake news.

"Huwag na po sana tayong magpasimula ng mga ganung balita kasi hindi naman po ito batay sa ebidensya (Let's not be part of spreading such news because this is not based on evidence)," Duque added.

He noted that in case there was a new strain identified, the announcement or advisory will be coming from World Health Organization or reputable agencies which are authorities on HIV-AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

"I'm sure, if there was a new strain it would have been (announced) by the WHO and other authorities on HIV-AIDS. So wala po ganun kaming natatanggap na parang ganung impormasyon (I'm sure if there will be a new strain, it would have been announced by the WHO and other authorities on HIV-AIDS. So we have not received any such information)," Duque said.

One of the new reports mentioned that the strain is more aggressive, more resistant to anti-retroviral drugs and progresses to AIDS faster than the HIV subtype B generally found in Western countries.

It also quoted Dr. Edsel Salvana, director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of the Philippines in Manila, who reportedly said that "the HIV virus has the potential to transform itself into a new and different virus each time it affects a cell."

Meanwhile, UNAIDS, the leading advocate for global action against HIV-AIDS, also belied the reports about the presence of new strain of HIV in the Philippines.

"There is no new strain of HIV which has been found in the Philippines. The variants of the virus found in the Philippines have not changed and are similar to the strains of the virus found in many parts of Asia and in other parts of the world," Louie Ocampo, UNAIDS Philippines country director, said in a statement.

He said there is no conclusive evidence that the strains of the virus found in the country are more infectious than other virus variants, nor is there evidence that they are resistant to the current treatment regimens available.

To date, all strains of HIV, prevention measures such as consistent condom use, pre-exposure prophylaxis, and universal treatment which achieve viral suppression are effective in reducing transmission, Ocampo said.

"All the strains found in the Philippines are effectively treated with the country’s approved antiretroviral therapy options," he said.

For his part, Dr. Jose Gerard Belimac, program manager of DOH's National HIV/AIDS/STI (Sexually Transmitted Infections) Prevention and Control Program, said early testing, diagnosis, and immediate treatment initiation are fundamentals to halting the growth of the country’s epidemic. (PNA)