Killing Us Softly:
The Return of the Disease
No One Wants to Talk About
This was the face of AIDS in the 90s.
It was easy then to stereotype those infected. Sarah Jane was a sex worker. The Department of Health made her the poster girl for AIDS prevention. Sarah Jane and, consequently, the controversies surrounding her while advocating AIDS prevention put the rising epidemic on the headlines. It worked. When Sarah Jane died in the year 2000, so too, it seemed, the spectre of the disease in the country.
But HIV is back. With a vengeance.
And The Rate of Infection Has Now Reached Epidemic Levels
Recent data show there are 31 newly diagnosed HIV cases daily.
In the month of August 2018 alone, there were 1047 reported to have been infected. In 2008, we only had 1 case per day, in 2010, 4 cases per day, in 2014, 17 cases per day.
“We have a 174-percent increase in new cases in 2017 vs. 2010,” says Dr. Louie Ocampo, UNAIDS Philippines Country Director. “That puts the country as one with the fastest-growing AIDS epidemic not only in Asia but also in the Pacific region.”
While countries like Vietnam and Thailand are seeing a decline in the number of new cases, the Philippines registered a 141% increase in the number of cases from 2010 to 2016. Ocampo adds that if this trend continues, there will be 265,000 cases in the country in a span of 10 years.
And these numbers are considered conservative, considering the fact that there are a lot out there who have not been tested yet.
We consider this as the second wave of HIV epidemic in the country,” says Dr. Ocampo. “The first one was until 2007. The country was actually very successful during the first wave.”
From 1991 to present, males comprised 94% (55,236) of the 58,919 diagnosed cases in the Philippines. In addition, from January to September 2018, three percent (235) out of 8,066 diagnosed male cases had classified their self-identity as female.
What’s More, HIV Also Became a Youth Epidemic
From January 1984 to September 2018, 28% of the reported cases were 15-24 years old. Ninety-seven percent were infected through sexual contact.
Two-thirds of the new infection are coming from the young group: 15-24 year olds.
We thought we already addressed all the concerns because of the success that we had with the first wave,” says Dr. Ocampo. “Since we now have the new key population, the young ones, na adolescents na ngayon, and because of easy access to information through social media, internet, the interventions that we had were not specific to the new arising area nitong bagong target natin.” He adds that there is now a mismatch of the prevention strategies versus the target.
RH Bill and The Condom Conundrum
The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 was supposed to, along with maternal care, guarantee universal access to methods on contraception, fertility control and sexual education. Condoms are ever-present when you visit your neighborhood drug and convenience stores.
This will be a tall order for the local government units, as with most bills requiring—even mandating—their active participation.
HIV will have to compete against equally important health programs in local communities—vaccination, immunization, maternal health, Tuberculosis, and all other health programs to be prioritized by local chief executives. ”Ang dami e,” says Dr. Ocampo. “HIV is just at the bottom of the list.”
“If we can screen all the mothers during the pre-natal period, then we can eliminate mother to child transmission,” says Dr. Ocampo. The Department of Health has issued a guideline on pre-natal screening for both public and private clinics and hospitals. “Unfortunately, there is that problem of implementation. Not all LGUs can implement because they’re not procuring testing kits. They’re solely dependent on the logistics provided by the national program.”
And Dr. Ocampo says side-effects are very rare. He laments the outdated information people find online when they search for the side effects of the antiretroviral drug (ARD). “Andami mo makikita na nakakatakot. You will have kidney failure, severe rashes… hindi tutoo yun e,” he bemoans.
Once you start on ARD, it will just take one to three months for you to become virally suppressed, and eventually become undetectable. After which, you become what doctors call untransmittable, which means you can’t transmit the disease anymore.
Always Come Prepared
In the meantime, with its rising HIV numbers, the Philippines is of special interest to Durex. The condom brand recently launched Always Come Prepared, a campaign that wants to bring the conversation of the HIV threat into a more understandable level and easy to digest way for the general public, particularly young adults.
To do this, Durex enlisted the popular trio of Boys Night Out – Sam YG, Toni Tony, and Slick Rick as campaign advocates, along with HIV-testing advocacy group Love Yourself, and UNAIDS. The brand is alarmed that despite the rising numbers, condom use is still relatively low in the Philippines, when condoms are still the only known effective method of preventing the transmission of HIV and other STDs aside from abstaining. Especially since neighboring countries like Thailand and Vietnam have had much success curbing the epidemic just by making condoms more accessible to people. “There is an urgent and pressing need to curb the infection. While the rest of the world has decreasing rates, we are going the opposite way,” said Karol Canlas, Brand Manager of Durex Philippines.These concerted efforts are all great news, and should be enough to curb the rise in numbers of the HIV epidemic in the country. But why are the numbers still projected to rise?
It’s because we all know that the problem of HIV/AIDS is more than just the disease itself.
What We Talk About When We Talk About HIV/Aids
Eto lagi kong sinasabi, HIV is not just a health issue,” says Dr. Ocampo. “It’s a social issue, even a religious and economic issue.”
“We want to normalize testing, we want to normalize condom-use, which is the major prevention. We want to normalize and talk openly about sex in general. Sex is a biological need like eating. Dapat hindi tayo nahihiya pag pinag-uuusapan yan. We want the next generation to be more open, educated about these things.”
“We don’t want anyone to die of AIDS-related death anymore,” he says.
“No one should die at this age because we have very effective treatment, and it’s free. It’s easily accessible.”
- LoveYourself Welcome (Espana / Blumentritt St., Manila, near Welcome Rotonda)
- LoveYourself Anglo (Shaw Blvd., Mandaluyong City)
- LoveYourself Uni (Taft Ave., Pasay City)