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Rise in HIV/AIDS infections in the Philippines

An estimated 4.9 million people are living with HIV/AIDS across Asia and the Pacific.

This number has remained stable since 2005, with a decline in HIV infections across the region. However, the United Nations agency for HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) is warning the Asia Pacific situation is still “very fragile”. There has been a three-fold increase in those receiving antiretroviral therapy, but with more than 3 out of 5 people still without access to live-saving treatment and with funding for prevention programmes and aid donations shrinking, future progress is now seen to be at risk.  

Some countries, such as the Philippines, are also seeing a rise in infections. In the Philippines, HIV infections are doubling each year due to inadequate prevention and lack of education about the disease. Though the overall prevalence still remains low at less than 1 per cent of the population, the spread of the disease among certain groups is now alarmingly high.

UNAIDS believes this spread is the result of a lack of HIV programmes which target the highest-risk groups of people, such as drug users, men who sleep with men and prostitutes. According to the latest country report for the Philippines, the country’s prevention programmes reach less than two-fifths of those who are most vulnerable to the disease. As a result, infections are spreading rapidly among certain groups. For example in Cebu, the prevalence of HIV infections among the city’s drug users (those injecting) rose from less than 1 per cent in 2009, to over 50 per cent of drugs users in 2011.

Health experts are concerned that the disease could soon start to spread faster among the general population as people in high risk groups infect their partners. In the Philippines, this prospect is particularly likely, because many cities have no HIV/AIDS prevention programmes and across the country as a whole, condom use is low. 

HIV/AIDS advocates hope this situation will improve in the future, though they worry any change may come too slowly. Easier access to information about contraception has been proposed as part of a new reproductive health bill, but this has yet to be approved. However, in response to the rising HIV infections, the government has said it will amend the AIDS Prevention and Control Act, as well as other outdated laws, such as the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, which currently allows possession of a condom to be used as evidence of prostitution.

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