While HIV prevalence in the country is low at 0.04 percent, there is a notable increase in new cases since 2007.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The Philippines is one of the nine countries worldwide with a rapid increase in Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) cases, according to the 2012 World AIDS Report. The Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development Foundation Inc. said that while HIV prevalence in the country is low at 0.04 percent, there is a notable increase in new cases since 2007.
“Transmission is increasing,” said Teresita Marie Bagasao, UNAIDS Country Coordinator in a bloggers forum on YES2Test launch held last June. She said that 50 percent of people who take HIV test do not come back for the result. Because of that, there is a risk that the virus will continue to be transmitted.
According to the AIDS.org, HIV can be transmitted from an infected person to another through:
– Blood (including menstrual blood), which contains the highest concentration of the virus
– Vaginal secretions
– Breast milk
Modes of HIV transmission:
– Unprotected, penetrative sexual contact
– Direct blood contact, including injections, blood transfusion, accidents in health care settings or certain blood products
– Mother to baby (before or during birth, or through breast milk)
According to AIDS.org, sharing needles is considered a high-risk practice. “An injection needle can pass blood directly from one person’s bloodstream to another. It is a very efficient way to transmit a bloodborne virus. Sharing needles is considered a high-risk practice.”
The following “bodily fluids” are not infectious:
A HIV positive mother can transmit the disease to the child. “It is possible for an HIV-infected mother to pass the virus directly before or during birth, or through breast milk. Breast milk may transmit HIV, and while small amounts of breast milk do not pose a significant threat of infection to adults, it is a viable means of transmission to infants,” the AIDS.org said in its website.
According to Avert, an international HIV and AIDS charity, mother-to-child transmission can be averted.
“In high-income countries mother-to-child transmission has been almost completely eliminated as a result of effective voluntary testing and counseling services, access to antiretroviral therapy, safe delivery practices, and the widespread availability and safe use of breast-milk substitutes.”
In the Philippines, there are 52 recorded cases of mother-to-child transmissions, according to the Philippine National AIDS Commission (PNAC) report.
The Department of Health has come with Policies and Guidelines on the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT).
When does HIV develop into AIDS
There is a difference between HIV and AIDS or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The AIDS.org says, AIDS is caused by HIV. “If you get infected with HIV, your body will try to fight the infection. It will produce antibodies, special molecules to fight HIV.”
“Being HIV-positive, or having the HIV disease, is not the same as having AIDS. Many people are HIVpositive but don’t get sick for many years. However, the HIV virus slowly wears down the immune system. Viruses, parasites, fungi and bacteria, which usually don’t cause any problem, can make a person very sick if the immune system is compromised. These are called ‘’opportunistic diseases.”
Wanggo Gallaga, an HIV positive person, said PLHIV should always remain healthy to avoid developing into AIDS. Gallaga shared in a bloggers’ forum conducted last June, “PLHIV can live a normal life if they are living a healthy lifestyle. I almost died in 2010. But here I am.”
HIV is treatable, but not curable
“HIV can be treated. The sooner you know your status, the earlier you can avail of treatment,” Gallaga said.
It may seem difficult to make the HIV antibody test appear as a normal procedure, but for HIV prevention advocates, the best way to prevent the spread of the virus is through HIV test.
According to the PLCPD, there are existing testing centers all over the country. The list is posted at Courage Philippines’ website. Courage Philippines is an “apostolate of the Roman Catholic Church that provides spiritual support for men and women with same-sex attractions.”
Take the Test Project, meanwhile, brings HIV testing to the people. “We go to the events, parties and gatherings and encourage them to take the test. Along with us are counselors and educators to educate people about HIV,” said Karl Agbulos of the Take the Test Project.
The Take the Test also pointed out, “Just having HIV won’t kill you. It’s having HIV and not knowing that robs you of the chance to take proper care of yourself and prolong your life. With HIV, what you don’t know can kill you. Get tested.”
There are also treatment hubs in some of the country’s government hospitals like the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), San Lazaro Hospital, and Philippine General Hospital (PGH). List of treatment hubs are posted at the Department of Health website\.
HIV prevention advocates said that instead of stigmatizing PLHIV, they should be supported and helped to avail of treatment. In that way, the spread of the disease can be prevented.