UNAIDS: HIV in PH a 'fast-growing epidemic'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 30) — With the rising number of people living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the Philippines, a United Nations (UN) official said the country needs to change its approach on curbing the "epidemic."

"(The Philippines is) slipping behind and that's a very fast growing epidemic and very quickly it's overtaking other countries in the region in terms of the number of new infections and that's quite a concern for the country," UN Programme on HIV/AIDS Regional Support Team for Asia Pacific Director Eammon Murphy said.

The UNAIDS director said the government needs to "re-energize" its response to HIV. He also commented on the "old-school" way of testing in the country.

"Testing now can be done much easier and faster but in the Philippines it can take 2-3 weeks to find out your HIV status after your test. That is old, that is very old school, so we need to change the community-based testing. You can even do self-testing at home," Murphy said.

The Department of Health (DOH) has tallied 44,010 cases of Filipinos with HIV/AIDS from January 1984 to May 2017.

This year, the number of HIV/AIDS cases rose by 15 percent to 4,388 from January to May compared to the same period a year ago.

READ: Health Dept: Number of monthly HIV/AIDS cases in PH hits highest rate since 1984

In the past six years, Murphy said more than 10,000 people "became infected with HIV."

"You compare that 6 years before, it was only 4,000 so it's a dramatic increase in a short time. That means the Philippines, which was for a long time considered the country that was very successful in the response to HIV, now needs to change its approach," Murphy said.

The DOH said one person is diagnosed with HIV in Western Visayas every 12 hours. Early this year, it was only one person every 15 hours, according to the health department's regional office.

From January 1986 to May 2017, the accumulated number of HIV/AIDS case in the region reached 1,839.

Iloilo City has the most number of cases at 487 followed by Iloilo province with 338 cases.

Other records include Bacolod City with 332 cases, Negros Occidental with 325, Capiz with 122, Aklan with 117, Antique with 84, and Guimaras with 34 cases.

DOH data also showed that most of the infected were males at 1,714 cases while there 125 infected females.

READ: More millennials diagnosed with HIV - DOH

Regional Director Marlyn Convocar said infected patients should have themselves tested for HIV immediately.

"They will be treated with utmost confidentiality. The laboratory is free and the medicine is free for those diagnosed to be positive of the virus," shared Convocar.

Treatments

Although the virus stays inside the body for life once acquired, antiretroviral therapy (ART) stops  the virus from multiplying.

If taken the right way, every day, this can dramatically prolong the lives of many people with HIV, keep them healthy, and greatly lower their chance of transmitting the virus to others.

Aside from using contraception, Murphy said there are other ways to avoid HIV.

"There are new innovations like pre-exposure prophylaxis which is where you take a treatment, medicine, and it can protect you from HIV," Murphy said.

CNN Philippines' correspondent Yvette Morales and stringer Elyrose S. Naorbe contributed to this report.