MANILA, Philippines – How can we end all the negative impact of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and promote the right to health to everyone?
This is the question that the whole world needs to address as it observes the World AIDS Day on Friday, December 1. Advocates around the world are expected to observe the day with the campaign called “Let’s End It.”
The campaign coincides with World Health Organization's theme for this year, "Right to health," which aims to highlight the need for all 36.7 million people living with HIV and those who are vulnerable and affected by the epidemic to reach the goal of universal health coverage.
In the Philippines, the question is highlighted after media groups and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) struggled to handle a drug raid case involving a person living with HIV (PLHIV).
On Monday, 4 days before the World AIDS Day, PDEA disclosed at a press conference that one of the 11 men nabbed at a drug bust was positive on HIV. Some media groups ran the story focusing on the suspects' sexual orientation, the circumstances surrounding the arrests, and the HIV reference.
Netizens and advocates from lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transexuals, and queer (LGBTQ) community were quick to challenge the government agency and the media reporting surrounding the raid. They said that, by hyping on their sexual orientation and disclosing that one of them is a PLHIV, they are perpetuating the stigma attached to the LGBTQ community and PLHIV.
Ending the stigma, isolation
There is cause to celebrate on World AIDS Day if we look at the worldwide figures.
Early in July, UNAIDS announced that, for the first time, the scales have tipped: more than half of all PLHIV – 53% – now have access to HIV treatment. AIDS-related deaths have also almost halved since 2005.
These figures show a consistent upward trend from 2016 when 19.5 million of the 36.7 million PLHIV were estimated to have access to treatment. AIDS-related deaths have also fallen from 1.9 million in 2005 to 1 million in 2016.
According to UNAIDS, if the trend continues, the progress puts the whole world on track to reach its 2020 target of reaching 30 million people for treatment.
Despite this significant stride on making HIV treatment more accessible, UNAIDS said that there is so much more that needs to be done. For example, stigma attached to PLHIV is still entrenched in almost all communities across the globe. (READ: 'Stop HIV shaming': When status is not the story)
Aside from that, UNAIDS also said that many countries, Philippines included, are off track from the general positive global trend of reducing HIV transmission. The Asia-Pacific region, specifically, is trailing way behind Africa in HIV treatment and response.
In the past 6 years, the Asia-Pacific region has seen only a 13% decline in new infections, compared to a 34% decrease in the past decade.
Philippines holds the record of the "fastest growing" HIV epidemic in Asia-Pacific, with new HIV cases among Filipinos having more than doubled from 4,300 in 2010 to 10,500 in 2016. Recently in May, the Department of Health (DOH) reported a total of 1,098 new cases of HIV infections in the Philippines.
According to amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, figures from the Philippines show that the country has had a staggering 140% increase in HIV infection rates in the last 6 years.
Most of these new infections occur in 117 "high burden areas," including the National Capital Region, Rizal, Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Bulacan, Cebu, Davao, Tagum, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Zamboanga, General Santos City, Koronadal, Butuan, Iloilo, Bacolod, Puerto Princesa, Tacloban, Naga, Lucena, Angeles, Mabalacat, Tarlac, San Fernando, Cabanatuan, Olongapo, and Baguio.
What can be done
What can be done to maintain worldwide progress in promoting right to health and make sure that more and more areas are on track with the 2020 target? Here are the key messages to achieve universal health coverage, according to WHO:
- Leave no one behind
- HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis services are integrated.
- High-quality services are available for those with HIV.
- People living with HIV have access to affordable care.
- The HIV response is robust and leads to stronger health systems
The "Let's End it" campaign also called on the public to use the December 1 as an avenue to raise awareness about the health epidemic.
Zooming in to the Philippines, LoveYourself PH, with the support of amfAR and WHO, opened the enrollment for Project PrEP, a project that brought pre-exposure prophylaxis to the country in an effort to curb the rapid spread of HIV infection among men who have sex with men and transgender individuals.
According to amfAR, results from this study can inform and guide policies aimed at scaling up the implementation of PrEP as an HIV prevention option in the country. – with reports from Raisa Serafica/Rappler.com