HIV cases rise by 18% in 2016 - DOH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Health officials have recorded an 18 percent increase in the number of new cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in 2016 compared to the year before.

According to the Department of Health (DOH), there were 9,200 Filipinos who tested positive for the virus, while in 2015 there were only 7,829.

This brings the total number of people living with HIV (PLHIV) in the Philippines to 37,653.

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Kahel Jay Sta. Maria, head life coach of LoveYourself, Inc., said this increase did not necessarily mean more people had been infected.

"This is both good and bad: good because people are becoming more aware of HIV and thus decide to get tested; bad because some people have had the virus for so long but were unaware until they got tested," Sta. Maria said in Filipino during a phone interview.

LoveYourself, Inc. is a nongovernment organization which aims to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. It is one of the satellite clinics accredited by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) to provide free HIV testing.

There are more than 50 DOH-designated treatment facilities in the country which provide HIV care. Some offer it for free but some paid tests can cost a little more than P1,000. According to Republic Act 8504 or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, all HIV testing facilities are required to conduct free pre- and post-test counselling.

Of the HIV cases last year, 88 percent are asymptomatic, or does not show the symptoms at the time of reporting, which may include fever, chills, rashes, swollen lymph nodes and mouth ulcers, among others, according to a U.S. Government HIV/AIDS information website.

Transmission, treatment

The most common mode of transmission of HIV, according to the HIV/AIDS and ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP), is through sexual contact, especially male to male sex. Second is through sharing of infected needles among drug users. Lastly, women living with HIV can also spread the virus to their children during pregnancy or lactation.

Since the virus was first reported in 1984, less than 2,000 Filipinos have so far died from HIV-AIDS.

The virus stays inside the body for life once acquired. Although there is still no cure for HIV, there are medicine which stop the virus from multiplying called antiretroviral drugs (ARVs).

ARVs are free in public hospitals, Sta. Maria said.

RA 8504 mandates the promotion of HIV/AIDS awareness through a "comprehensive nationwide educational and information campaign."

Public and private schools are also required to teach HIV/AIDS prevention and control. However, HIV/AIDS education should "not be used as an excuse to propagate birth control or the sale or distribution of birth control devices," according to the law.

For Sta. Maria, government support on the use of condoms is one way to gradually decrease the rise of the number people living with HIV.

There are still a lot of people who cannot afford and don't know how to use a condom, Sta. Maria said. Giving out these contraceptives, he added, would help the spread not only of HIV but also of other sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs).

"Hindi ka naman magbibigay nang basta-basta lang. Pag nagbigay ka ng condom, ituro mo kung para saan," Sta. Maria said.

[Translation: One should not give condoms without proper information on what it is for.]

For the life coach, one person has also positively influenced the discussion on HIV in the past year.

People have become open-minded of HIV/AIDS when Pia Wurtzbach won Miss Universe, he said.

Wurtzbach is a staunch advocate of HIV/AIDS awareness.

"Sobrang laki ng naitulong niya. Pinag-usapan yung HIV, lalo na kapag naglalabas ng prevalence report yung DOH," Sta. Maria said.

[Translation:She has contributed a lot in the HIV awareness. People talk about it, especially when DOH releases its prevalence report.]