The Department of Health (DOH) commemorates the week-long Philippine International AIDS Candlelight Memorial today by encouraging the public to get tested and urging those who tested positive to avail of free treatment, care, and support services. More importantly, the DOH stressed that the occasion is a day to remember all those who have died from the disease.

This year's theme, “One Big Fight for Health and Rights of People Living with HIV”, is very timely as the new HIV law, RA 11166 otherwise known as the ‘Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act’, has just been signed.

“One of the highlights of the amended Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act is the lowering of the age of a person to avail of free HIV testing without parents’ consent from 18 to 15 years old. This is very much relevant as DOH data revealed that one out of every three new HIV infection are from ages 15 to 24. In addition, from January 1984 to March 2019, twenty-eight percent (28%) of the diagnosed HIV cases belonged to this age group,” Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III disclosed.

“The other highlights of the new law are the provision of free and accessible anti-retroviral treatment and medication for opportunistic infections to all PLHIVs enrolled in the program, development of a benefit package for PLHIV that shall include coverage for in-patient and out-patient medical and diagnostic services, including medication and treatment; development of a benefit package for the unborn and the newborn child from infected mothers; setting a reference price for HIV services in government hospitals; and development of a mechanism for orphans living with HIV to access HIV benefit package,” Duque added.

According to the 2017 UNAIDS global report, the Philippines had the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the Asia and the Pacific region with the highest percent increase (133%) of new HIV infections between 2010 and 2016. By the end of 2019, an estimated 93,400 Filipinos are living with HIV.

“Among the priority HIV activities this year are offering free condoms and lubricants, HIV testing, and Antiretroviral (ARV) treatment for PLHIV. Included also is the implementation of Rapid HIV Diagnostic (rHIVda) or same-day HIV test result in 15 laboratories and execution of LHIVE Free Campaign,” the health chief discussed.

The number of diagnosed HIV cases has been increasing from 1 per day in 2008 to 38 per day in 2019.

The March 2019 HIV, AIDS and ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP) report revealed that there were 1,172 newly diagnosed HIV cases. Half (50%, 591) of the cases belonged to 25-34 years old while 31% (359) belonged to the 15-24 years old at the time of testing.

Sexual contact remained as the predominant mode of transmission (61% male to male sex, 24% sex with both males and females, 15% male to female sex), the report said. Further, there were 11 reported deaths due to any cause among people with HIV.

The health chief reported that as of March 2019, about 40% (36,320/90,400) were on anti-retroviral therapy.

“Accessing medications and treatment is a basic human right of every PLHIV,” Duque concluded.