MANILA, Philippines -- Bad news from the health department's National Epidemiology Center (NEC).
The number of HIV-AIDS cases in the country, which have been steadily climbing since 2007, may breach the 6,000-mark in 2010 for the first time since the country started recording HIV-AIDS cases in the mid-1980s.
The human-immuno deficiency virus or HIV leads to AIDS or the acquired immune deficiency syndrome, a condition in which the bodys immune systems are attacked, weakened and disabled by the virus, ultimately leading to death.
Based on NEC projections, new HIV infections may reach 1,500 by Christmas 2010, according to Dr. Eric Tayag, NEC director.
Speaking during Monday's HIV Summit at Manila Diamond Hotel, the NEC head also reported that all regions nationwide have registered HIV cases.
There's nowhere to hide...72 of 80 provinces all over the country now have HIV cases, Tayag said, noting 64 percent of the total number of cases came from Metro Manila while 24 percent of the cases were from Southern Luzon and Central Visayas.
For the current month alone, the NEC has already registered 120 new HIV cases, bringing the total to 4,817 since 1984.
Ten years ago, there were more women than men who were infected with HIV, according to Tayag.
Today, 74 percent of HIV-infected persons are men, about 60 percent of whom are from the 20-29 age group.
It's raining men indeed, he pointed out.
The NEC also observed a rise in the number of HIV-infected women.
For females, there's trouble in paradise, according to Tayag.
Sexual contact, especially unprotected sex, has remained the main mode of disease transmission, followed by exposure to contaminated blood and parent-to-child transmission, Tayag added.
Noting that everyone is susceptible to HIV-AIDS, Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral called for collective action in facing the epidemic.
Cabral stressed the need to strive for a multisectoral collaboration in response to the threat.
We need to show we're serious in our aim to bring down (HIV-AIDS cases here) by putting our money where our mouth is, said Cabral.
On the Department Of Health's controversial Condom distribution program, she said setting aside funds for the HIV prevention initiative has been better than spending on less efficient programs.
An aggressive response to the epidemic is as essential as the treatment and care for HIV-infected persons, according to Cabral.
Local Government Undersecretary Austere Panadero, meanwhile, announced that the government would come up shortly with the national response to the HIV-AIDS epidemic for the period 2011 to 2016.
It will be aligned with the country's medium-term development plan and Millenium Development Goals, said Panadero.
The plan would focus on disease prevention among high-risk groups like sex workers, as well as vulnerable groups like (overseas Filipino workers) and children and youth in difficult situations. According to Panadero, the HIV-AIDS problem here is still not that huge. It's still not a full-blown pandemic.
But we can't be complacent, he warned.
Panadero said they have been eyeing efforts to increase civil society participation in the campaign against HIV-AIDS and inclusion of the HIV-related problems in strategy planning efforts.
Jerico Paterno, president of the Pinoy Plus Association, which groups HIV-positive persons nationwide, called for a clear blueprint of the government's campaign against the killer disease.
Stressing we are not the problem, we are part of the solution, Paterno expressed confidence there would be a sustainable (state) policy on the prevention and treatment of HIV-AIDS.
At the same time, he cited Cabral for her guts, for being pro-active and brave enough to do the right things and not being politicized in doing her tasks, including the promotion of Condom use, especially among HIV-AIDS high risk groups.
Meanwhile, Dr. Sha'ari Bin Ngadiman, deputy director of the disease control office of the Malaysian health ministry, shared his country's experience in battling the killer disease. Malaysia may not have totally eradicated HIV-AIDS, but Ngadiman said the Southeast Asian country has succeeded to some extent in preventing the spread of the disease through several strategies.
These include preventing people from being infected, strengthening our health-care system, improving our HIV-AIDS information system, expanding infected persons' access to treatment, and providing the best care for people living with HIV-AIDS."
Other summit participants include Social Welfare and Development Secretary Celia Yangco and Undersecretary Alicia Bala, Joshua Formentera of the Positive Action Foundation, Inc., and representatives of other non-government organizations.