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HIV/AIDS in the Philippines: hidden and growing August 28, 2006

Posted by lagablab in hiv/aids.

From low and slow to hidden and growing.

This is how the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) and the Joint United Nations Programme of HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Philippines characterize the prevalence of HIV infection in the Philippines. On August 25, 2006, PNAC and UNAIDS organized a consultation with organizations that work with communities of gays, bisexuals, transgenders and other “males who have sex with males” (MSMs) to look into the issue of addressing male-to-male sexual behavior and HIV/AIDS. TLF SHARE, a gay men’s NGO and a member of LAGABLAB-Pilipinas, spearheaded the consultation.

Other groups present in the consultation are Amnesty International Pilipinas, K2BGay, Reachout Foundation International, AIDS Society of the Philippines, and LAKANBINI-Bulacan, among others.

MSMs are considered to be one of the populations highly vulnerable to HIV infection. The other “vulnerable communities” are people in prostitution (PIPs) and their clients, injecting drug users (IDUs), and migrant workers. The presence of several factors suggests that HIV incidence in the country may be growing. The incidence of sexually transmitted infections (STI) among high-risk groups is high and condom use remains low. Multiple sexual partnerships are also common, with MSMs reporting an average of two sexual partners per month. In short, the ingredients for a full-blown epidemic are already present in the country.

The resources allotted by the government to address the problem, however, are negligible. Only about fifteen percent (15%) allotted for health this year went to preventive programs. The bulk of the budget went to maintain hospitals (70%), while the rest of the meager resources were spent on salaries of public health workers.

According to the Department of Health’s HIV and AIDS Registry, of the reported 2, 566 seropositive cases since 1984, most are males (1, 636) and in between 20-39 years old. Four hundred seventy-three (473) of the cases have been sexually transmitted through “homosexual contact”, while one hundred forty (140) cases have been transmitted through “bisexual contact”.

Dr. Roderick Poblete from the PNAC Secretariat said that figures on HIV/AIDS may not reveal the entire picture of HIV infection among MSMs. Dr. Poblete said that for many homosexual migrant workers infected with HIV, it is oftentimes easier to come out to their families and friends as HIV-positive than as homosexuals. Such realities are usually not reflected in the statistics gathered by the government.

Malou Quintos, Programme Coordinator of UNAIDS in the Philippines, said that in the Asia-Pacific region, MSMs are the least reached by preventive programs. According to Quintos, preventive efforts are able to cover 1% of the MSM communities in the Asia-Pacific region. She added that interventions have to scale up and increase their coverage among vulnerable communities to reverse the growing prevalence of HIV infection among MSMs. (Download Quintos’s presentation here) .

PNAC recently released the 4th AIDS Medium Term Plan, which serves as the country’s blueprint for action to accelerate response to STI/HIV/AIDS from 2005-2006. Compared to the previous AMTPs, the new one has explicit targets for MSMs and other vulnerable groups.

On September 23-26, 2006, a historic gathering of gay, bisexual, transgender and other MSM groups in the Asia-Pacific region will take place in New Delhi, India. A report on the Philippine consultation will be presented in the regional conference.

The ASEAN Summit, which will be hosted by the Philippines this December, will issue a new declaration on HIV/AIDS.

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