HIV rates are expanding at an alarming rate in the Philippines. In fact, according to the Department of Health, health officials saw the number of new HIV cases rise 18 percent in 2016 alone. By the end of the year, 9,200 Filipinos were newly diagnosed with the virus — compared to 7,829 in 2015.
In total, 37,653 people in the Philippines are living with HIV, and nearly 80 percent of them are men who have sex with men. The rise is so sharp that the National Youth Commission described it as a “youth epidemic” within the country. Nearly 62 percent of new cases were between the ages of 15 and 24.
Despite the growing rates across the country, HIV prevention policies within the Philippines itself is not tailored to address the needs of high risk individuals, mainly due to cultural stigma that creates legal limitations in access to condoms and STI testing.
Now, a pilot project called Project PrEPPY supported by amfAR, the foundation for AIDS research, and World Health Organization is bringing PrEP to the Philippines in an effort to curb the rapid spread of HIV. This marks the first major effort the country has done to spread awareness about PrEP, and encouraging people to practice it.
A total of 200 high risk HIV-negative MSM and transgender women will be offered PrEP at LoveYourself’s two clinics in Manila. Results from the study will help create a guideline on how the Philippines might be able to update national policies and wider use of PrEP as an HIV prevention option countrywide.
“Efforts to address the burgeoning HIV epidemic in the Philippines are inadequate, and there is now an urgent need to take more effective measures to reduce HIV transmission among vulnerable populations,” amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost said in a statement. “We’re excited to be a part of this unique partnership in deploying an important tool in our arsenal against HIV, especially among MSM.”
“PrEP is an important additional HIV prevention tool, especially for subgroups of MSM who are at high risk of HIV infection,” said Ying-Ru Lo, M.D., Coordinator, HIV, Hepatitis and Sexually Transmitted Infections Unit, Division of Communicable Diseases at WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific. “The Philippines is among the first countries in Asia to introduce PrEP, showing their commitment to step up HIV prevention for MSM and address the worsening HIV epidemic among MSM in the Philippines.”
Enrollment has already begun for the study.