MANILA (Philippine Inquirer/ANN News Desk) - The Philippines saw its highest rate of HIV transmission for the month of January since 1984 – a sign of its growing HIV epidemic amongst youth and men who have sex with men.
Cases of HIV infection continue to rise in the Philippines, with 844 new cases reported in January – the highest number since 1984, according to the Department of Health (DOH).
In effect, an average of 27 cases were reported every day that month.
The numbers underline what has been called an “HIV epidemic” by organisations like Human Rights Watch as the Philippines has failed to address one of the highest rates of transmission in the Asia-Pacific.
Data show that from 1984 to October 2016, a total of 38,114 HIV cases were recorded, with 32,099 cases – 84% – tallied from 2011 to 2016. Among 15 to 24 years olds, there were 10,279 HIV cases during the period, of which 9,066 – 88% – were tallied since 2011.
HIV transmission disproportionately impacts men who have sex with men (MSM) in the Philippines, according to government data. In January, ninety-six percent of the cases were males. More than half belonged to the 25-34 year age group while 31 percent were aged 15 to 24 years.
The Philippines has long struggled to institute government-funded sexual education programs in the predominately Catholic country.
The Romanic Catholic Church continues to lobby against sexual education and condom use, according to Human Rights Watch, while conservative attitudes towards sex have kept many youth from engaging in open discussion about its risks.
Parental consent is still needed to purchase condoms under the age of 18 and a recent move to distribute condoms in schools was blocked in February, according to Human Rights Watch.
An absence of sexual education has had an impact on heterosexual couples as well, with teen pregnancy rates doubling between 2002 and 2014, according to the National Youth Commission.
However, National Youth Commission chair Aiza Seguerra has called for the age for parental consent be lowered from 18 to 15 for an HIV test.