Red Cross alarmed over rising HIV cases

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“We are one of the nine countries with increasing trend of HIV cases. Currently, we have more than 29,000 cases of HIV here in the country,” Dr. Jojo Feliciano, OIC Director of the Philippine National Aids Council said.

“Such grave situation threatens our blood supply," said Philippine Red Cross (PRC) chairman Richard Gordon, expressing concern over the rising cases of human immunodeficiency virus-acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) in the country.

He said the AIDS epidemic could compromise the quality of blood supply and urged the government to act strongly to reverse the trend.

“Anyone with contaminated blood in his veins will be a threat. When push comes to shove, one has to be extremely careful with testing the blood, as not all centers in the country are as careful as the Red Cross is in testing blood,” he said in an interview.

From January to October this year, there are now 6,552 people diagnosed with HIV, according to the Department of Health (DOH).

This is 37 times higher than the 174 new HIV cases documented in the entire year of 2001, Gordon said.

In 2000, one HIV case is diagnosed every three days, while this year, one case is detected every hour.

There is currently no cure or effective HIV vaccine. Treatment consists of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) which slows progression of the disease. Treatment also includes preventive and active treatment of opportunistic infections.

The DOH has predicted that by 2022, some 133,000 Filipinos will acquire HIV if left untreated and will in turn cost the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. some P4 billion a year for outpatient package alone.

Next year, the DOH targets a zero campaign to lessen cases of HIV.


More young Filipinos infected with the virus

As of 2014, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), 220,100 young people in the Asia-Pacific region with ages 15-19 years old are positive with the virus.

In Philippines alone, 1,210 young people were diagnosed with 800 cases just for the year 2010.

This is due to the fascination of many to different dating websites, lack of information and practice of unprotected sex.

Bureau of Local Health Development (BLHD) Director Eric Tayag said that 92 percent of HIV infections in the country were caused by unprotected sex with multiple sexual partners.

He added that HIV infections continue to be recorded more among men having sex with men, which account for 68 percent of the HIV cases.

The DOH official further said that online social networking sites contributed to the increase in the number of HIV cases in the Philippines. He cited a DOH study in 2011 which revealed that 67 percent of men having sex with men find dates and sexual partners using sexual networking sites.


Blood donations with HIV

The PRC has also observed an increase in donated blood infected with HIV.

From January to August 2015, a total of 116 donations or .05 percent of the 223,474 units tested yielded the virus.

In 2014, a total of 158 donations or .04 percent of the 355,000 units tested was infected.

Records showed in 2013, of the 314,000 blood units tested by PRC, .02 percent or 85 donations were found infected with the virus.

Rest assured, however, that these blood donations were not transfused.

Transfusion of blood and blood products, which helps save millions of lives every year, needs to be clean and free from a wide variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses, prions, and parasites that further cause diseases such as Hepatitis A,B and C, Dengue Fever and HIV/AIDS.

In this light, Gordon assured the public that the PRC has been strict in testing and in screening blood donors not only for HIV/AIDS, but for other blood-borne diseases like malaria and hepatitis.

However, the PRC chair expressed concern over the 19-day window period or the period between the infection and the appearance of the virus that can be detected during HIV testing

“You will not see the virus during that 19 days so I am advocating that we use the nucleic acid test (in screening a person for HIV). But even with that, you will only have four days for the virus to hide but at least its not 19 days,” said.

Not only PRC should adopt nucleic acid test but also the DOH.

The PRC supplies 25%-30% of national blood requirements while the DOH-Philippine Blood Center supplies most of the blood needs of Level 1 and Level 2 hospitals and non-hospital-based facilities like renal dialysis centers and birthing homes in Metro Manila. It has accredited selected Level 3 hospitals to collect, test, and process blood.

Aside from the Philippines, the eight other countries with rising cases of HIV infections based on the UNAIDS report are Bangladesh, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Krygyzstan, Republic of Moldova and Sri Lanka.

(With reports from The Philippine Star / Opinyon, Rosemarie Señora)