Aside from President Aquino, there was another person of Philippine descent in Time magazine’s latest annual list of the world’s most influential people. Filipino-American scientist Katherine Luzuriaga, who teaches pediatrics and medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, was cited as one of the “pioneers” together with doctors Deborah Persaud and Hannah Gay for developing the first ever “functional cure” for an infant with HIV.
The recognition for groundbreaking work should draw attention to the fact that cases of HIV and AIDS are on the rise in the Philippines. In March the Department of Health reported that from an average of nine new cases of HIV/AIDS registered daily in 2012, the number went up to 12 in January. This is equivalent to about 380 cases for the month, with 25 AIDS cases, according to the DOH.
It was the highest number recorded since the government launched the Philippine HIV and AIDS Registry in 1984. AIDS spread slowly in the Philippines, unlike in some neighboring countries where illegal drugs and a thriving sex industry created an AIDS crisis in those early years. But those governments implemented decisive measures to fight the scourge, including aggressive campaigns to promote the use of condoms. Thailand racked up impressive victories, turning back the tide of HIV infections and significantly bringing down the number of AIDS deaths.
In the Philippines, the problem remained on the fringe of national consciousness for many years, even after the DOH persuaded some AIDS patients to come out in the open and warn the public. The affliction has been most prevalent among males having sex with other males, or MSM. Up to 82 percent of HIV/AIDS cases recorded since 1984 involved MSM, with 61 percent of the patients aged between 20 and 29. The DOH noted that the MSM were usually reluctant to undergo HIV testing because of the stigma attached to the disease plus the high cost of the test.
Today’s HIV/AIDS figures, although still low compared to certain other Asian countries, should raise concern. The DOH counts a total of 12,082 registered HIV cases since 1984, with 1,194 progressing into AIDS. The number recorded last January was 79 percent higher than the 212 registered in January 2012. The death toll stands at 353. Those figures, and the alarming increase in the past months, leave no room for complacency.