PHL ‘not there yet’ in combatting HIV/AIDS

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 1 Dec) – The Philippines is nowhere near the finish line in terms of completing one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of the United Nations (UN).

Speaking in Monday’s Kapehan sa Dabaw in SM City Davao, Dr. Jordana Ramiterre, head of the Reproductive Health and Wellness Center (RHWC) of the Davao City Health Office, said that “we are not yet there,” referring to the sixth MDG: to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

According to a UN fact sheet, the sixth MDG has the following targets: to halt and to begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015; and to achieve universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it.

All of the UN MDGs, which cover from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all have a target date of 2015.

“There is no halting happening,” she said. As of September 2014 (the latest available data from the Department of Health), there are a total 1,014 HIV cases in Davao City; 1,220 in the whole Davao Region. These numbers increased from 921 (Davao City) and 1,020 (Davao Region) since June 2014.

In June alone, there have been 27 reported cases of HIV/AIDS in Davao City; there are 36 reported cases of HIV for the whole region that month.

Ramiterre said that the number of cases continue to increase. She put it this way more clearly: in 2007, one case of HIV is reported per day; in 2014, this average ballooned into 15 cases per day.

She also said that the Davao Region is contributing to the “epidemic” nationwide. According to the National Epidemiology Center, as of September 2014, there are a total of 20,989 reported HIV cases.

She added that efforts to mediate this are continuing (like access to health and testing services, education, and prevention and control mechanism), but it is the behavior of the key population, those most vulnerable to HIV, that is difficult to contain.

Sexual transmission continue to be the most common mode of transmission; homosexual intercourse continue to have a dominant percentage in the tally.

Ramiterre also said that access to treatment could see some roadblocks in the near future as the grant from The Global Fund for the country’s Department of Health (DOH) ends on June 2015.

The grant, titled “Scaling Up HIV Prevention, Treatment, Care and Support Through Enhanced Voluntary Counseling and Testing and Improved Blood Safety Strategies” started on December 1, 2007 and is set to end on June 30, 2015.

In a grant performance report, the cumulative disbursed amount is $18,430,498 for the whole period.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria mobilizes and invests nearly US$4 billion a year to support programs run by local experts in more than 140 countries, the Philippines included. The Global Fund is a partnership between governments, civil society, the private sector and people affected by the diseases.

On the months that will follow June 2015, Ramiterre said that DOH is eyeing on having HIV treatment still accessible through PhilHealth where people living with HIV can access out-patient antiretroviral therapy (ART) packages.

She said that this is still currently being discussed; the answer to whether The Global Fund will allot money for prevention and control, or treatment isn’t put in paper yet.

According to the World Health Organization, standard ART consists of “the combination of at least three antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to maximally suppress the HIV virus and stop the progression of HIV disease.”

Nathaniel David, a member of the Mindanao AIDS Advocates Association Inc., said that a bottle of ARV drugs is worth P7,000; each bottle is good for 30 days. This form of treatment, which is free as of the moment, might change when a new Global Fund funding model with DOH will be arranged.

Earlier this year, the AIDS Society of the Philippines (ASP) announced in their website that they received another grant from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria (GFATM) to implement activities on HIV and AIDS. The project, titled “Sustaining the Gains of Essential Program Services of the Round 6 HIV Grant in the Philippines,” will run until December 2015.

“The general goal of this project is to increase HIV case detection while improving treatment rate and creating systematic management of HIV and AIDS cases in the Philippines,” ASP wrote in a blog post. Davao City is one of the sites of the project.

In Monday’s World AIDS Day celebration in Davao City, organizations gathered at the Rizal Park for some Zumba, live music, and games.