In only 10 years, the proportion of HIV-positive cases in the 15-24 year age group nearly tripled from 13% in 1999-2008 to 29% in 2009-2018, according to the November 2018 latest update of the Department of Health’s HIV and AIDS Registry.
For November 2018, there were 945 new cases (900 males and 45 females), with 71 already in the advanced stages of infection; six of whom are pregnant women.
There were 56 newly-diagnosed adolescents 10-19 years old; all were infected through sexual contact (5 male-female sex, 41 male-male sex, and 10 had sex with both males and females). There were six newly diagnosed children less than 10 years old, all were infected through mother-to-child transmission.
In the same month, there were 37 reported deaths; seven cases were aged 15-24.
From January 1984 (when the first case in the Philippines was reported) to November 2018, 4% (2,532) of all cases were 19 years old and younger at the time of diagnosis.
Out of the 2,532, there were 160 children less than 10 years old, among them 157 were infected through mother-to-child transmission; one through blood transfusion; and two without data on mode of transmission.
The predominance of young people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is persistent in the government’s monthly report; many who are recorded officially may have been diagnosed during the late stages of infection due to underlying factors.
Benjamin de Leon, president of The Forum for Family Planning and Development, Inc. (The Forum), said the enactment of the HIV and AIDS Policy Act of 2018 (RA 11166) may improve the scenario for children and youth, as it would stop the rapid virus transmission among those in the young age brackets who had to seek parental and guardian consent prior to getting tested.
“Our work in The Forum involves responding to the reproductive and sexual health needs of children and young people through education and information campaigns to increase awareness,” said De Leon.
“The situation in the areas where we work is dismal because young people lack information and therefore, are not empowered to know about their health and how to seek help,” he said.
“The infection can spread unchecked if we continue to deny children and youth the necessary and urgent medical attention that they can get,” he said, adding that, “it is also urgent to address their lack of information, which is one of the major reasons why infection rates in the country are rising alarmingly.”
De Leon said his organization, The Forum, supports the new law that updates the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, whose most important feature is the removal of the need for “mature” minors between 15 and 18 to get parental consent prior to getting an HIV test.
“Children and young people can now avail themselves of the HIV test, and if they turn out positive, they can be treated and supported early,” he said. “And because of better access and early medical and psychosocial intervention, stigma and discrimination will slowly be a thing of the past for children and youth who are living with HIV and AIDS.”
De Leon further said the work of advocacy organizations such as The Forum will be better complemented with the government expanding access to evidence-based HIV strategies and facilitate easier access for persons to know about their HIV status, apart from providing free and accessible antiretroviral treatment that slows down the advance of the virus.
De Leon also noted that “for almost two decades, there has been no comprehensive sex and sexuality education of any kind in the country, and it is the advocacy groups who are active in doing this in the hard-to-reach areas.”
“Let us rally behind the law and implement an education program that raises awareness and teaches prevention that helps reduce risky, vulnerable behavior,” he said. “Let us now strengthen our advocacy in promoting a rights-based approach in addressing HIV and AIDS.”
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has said that the Philippines recorded the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the Asia Pacific from 2010 to 2016 with a 141 percent increase, which means 32 new cases reported daily. It is one of the very few countries in the world where HIV is on the rise nonstop.
According to the Department of Health, there will be a quarter of a million Filipinos living with HIV by 2030 if no drastic measures are done, and based on current trends, majority of new infections will likely be teens and young adults aged 15 to 24.
HIV is transmitted when body fluids, most commonly blood, semen and pre-seminal fluid, enters another person’s body, either through sexual contact, sharing of contaminated needles, transfusion of HIV-infected blood and through an infected pregnant mother to her child.
HIV causes AIDS, which destroys the human body’s natural ability to fight off all kinds of infections. The condition still does not have any known cure nor a vaccine.