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Covid-19 pandemic driving HIV surge in PH

Covid-19 Coronavirus

MANILA – Rep. Michael Defensor (Anakalusugan) has warned that the Philippines could see a fresh surge in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections in the years ahead due to disruptions in health services caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“A total of 12,341 new HIV infections were diagnosed in the country in 2021, up by 54 percent from the 8,036 new cases detected in 2020,” Defensor said in a news release on Sunday.

Defensor said the country’s cumulative confirmed HIV caseload could breach the 100,000-mark within the first half of this year.

Last year’s new infections brought to 94,337 the aggregate number of confirmed cases in the National HIV/AIDS (acquired immuno deficiency syndrome) Registry, Defensor said.

“The next Congress may have to increase annual funding for HIV prevention and treatment to cope with the surge in new infections and the demand for treatment,” Defensor said.

He said there’s no question that the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the delivery of and access to HIV prevention, testing, and treatment services.

“As we see it, difficulties associated with the pandemic may have discouraged many Filipinos from seeking HIV testing, even if they suspect that they may be infected,” Defensor said.

“If a person living with HIV is not diagnosed right away, then that individual could be unknowingly spreading the infection,” he added.

HIV is being spread in the country mainly through sexual contact, with 81 percent of all cases due to males who have sex with males.

HIV causes AIDS which destroys the human body’s natural ability to ward off all kinds of infections.

Although HIV still does not have any known cure, early diagnosis and antiretroviral therapy (ART) slows the progression of the virus to a near halt and reduces the risk of transmission.

“We are worried that a significant number of Filipinos living with HIV may have fallen out of treatment, also due to complications related to the pandemic,” Defensor said.

“Right now, only 63 percent of the cases are receiving treatment, which is way below the 90 percent target,” he added.

A total of 56,385 Filipinos living with HIV were undergoing daily lifelong ART as of December 2021.

Of the 12,341 new infections last year, 96 percent (or 11,793 cases) were male, while 4 percent (or 548 cases) were female, according to the national registry.

The new infections included 746 Filipinos who had worked overseas in the last five years.

An additional 893 Filipinos living with HIV died last year, bringing to 5,373 the cumulative deaths in the registry, which was first established in 1984.

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