MANILA -- More young Filipino men are now being infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the Department of Health (DOH) said Thursday.
In a solidarity conference in Quezon City, Mary Joy Morin, DOH Central Office National AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) and STI (sexually transmitted infection) Prevention and Control Program Officer, said around 65,463 cumulative cases have been recorded from 1984 to March 2019 and the predominant mode of transmission is sexual contact.
This figure represents Filipinos who were tested and known to be HIV positive and 94 percent of them are males who have sex with other males.
"About 50 percent of these males are aged 25 to 34 years old, meaning they are part of the productive age or workforce group while 31 percent are males aged 15 to 24 years old who are part of the younger population and still in learning institutions," she said.
She attributed the increase in the number of HIV cases among young Filipinos "to lack of education about safe sex, as many engage in condom-less sexual contact among males".
"We are in fact the highest in HIV increase rate in the Asia Pacific region so the global community is keeping an eye on us but we're still able to maintain the prevalence at one percent of the general population. Our country's goal is to maintain it at less than one percent prevalence," she said, adding that 140 percent increase of HIV cases has been recorded by the DOH over the past 10 years.
Morin explained the Philippines is one of the few countries in the world with a growing HIV prevalence "compared to other countries with rates already decreasing or stagnating".
While the DOH aims to educate the male population on safe sex, Morin said it is equally important to educate females who could also have sexual contact with men having sex with men.
"These women can acquire the infection and get pregnant and transmit the infection to their infants so we need to educate them. We are signatory to the global movement to end AIDS by 2030, so we adopted the 90-90-90 fast track strategies," she added.
These strategies aim at having 90 percent of people living with HIV tested and aware of their status, be enrolled in an anti-retroviral therapy and be virally suppressed after treatment.
In connection with this, the government through Republic Act 11166 or the AIDS Policy Act of 2018 is conducting various HIV prevention campaigns which include proper education, testing and treatment.
"We have expanded the HIV testing to 15 years old, and up to below 18 years old without parental consent and to young persons aged below 15 who are pregnant or engaged in high risk behavior with the assistance of a licensed social worker," Morin said.
To prevent mother to child transmission of HIV, Morin said the act also mandates the "universal offering of voluntary HIV testing among pregnant women".
"The DOH also offers rapid HIV diagnostic algorithm with same day test result and STI diagnosis and treatment, and offer condoms and water-based lubricants especially if you engage in anal sex because condom use is not enough when it comes to anal sex. We also give HIV prevention messages so that if you're HIV negative, you'll remain HIV negative," she said.
"No one will be left behind in terms of HIV education only if everybody will listen and learn, get tested, get treated and adhere to treatment," she added. (PNA)