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Opinion

EDITORIAL - Battling AIDS: Equalize

The Philippine Star

World AIDS Day was marked on the first day of December with the COVID-19 pandemic taking its toll on prevention and treatment of AIDS and human immunodeficiency virus.

Throughout the pandemic, health experts noted a significant drop in testing for HIV/AIDS, with fewer people also seeking treatment. Resources for subsidized testing and treatment were also eaten up by emergency response to the COVID pandemic. In the Philippines, HIV testing dropped by 61 percent in 2020 while treatment initiation dropped by 28 percent. Only 61 percent of persons living with HIV were on antiretroviral therapy in 2020.

Two laws have been passed in the Philippines to promote the welfare of persons living with AIDS/HIV and prevent discrimination against them. Yet resources to fully implement some of the provisions, already limited before COVID struck, have become even more strained after two years of battling SARS-CoV-2.

Between 2010 and 2017, the Philippines had the fastest-growing HIV epidemic in the Western Pacific at 174 percent, although actual case numbers were low compared to other countries. Over 80 percent of the infections were among men having sex with men. There are concerns that if not sufficiently addressed, HIV / AIDS could spread from MSM to the general population. In recent years, cases among pregnant women have been increasing.

As of February this year, there were 1,054 confirmed HIV-positive people in the Philippines, bringing the total cases to 96,266 since the first case was detected in the country in January 1984, with males accounting for 94 percent. Of the cases reported in February this year, 28 percent or 297 had advanced HIV infection upon testing.

During the pandemic lockdowns, health experts reported that people with HIV / AIDS, whose immune systems are weakened, accounted for many of the COVID deaths. UNAIDS data show that the global response to HIV / AIDS faltered in the past two years. The pandemic aggravated inequalities in access to basic HIV services such as testing, treatment, condoms and new technologies, UNAIDS reported.

UNAIDS estimates that only a third of the vulnerable populations have regular access to prevention and treatment services. This year the theme of World AIDS Day is “equalize” so that even people in marginalized communities can access HIV / AIDS services. The United Nations had set 2030 as the target year for ending AIDS as a global health threat. But UNAIDS stressed that to attain this goal, “economic, social, cultural and legal inequalities must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

COVID-19

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